With the creation of the New Commonwealth in 1956 the charter demanded that the Falkland Islands become independent from Britain and become a member of the Commonwealth in its own right. There were many of the island's 2000+ inhabitants who did not see the benefits of this but eventually they were swayed by the promise of economic benefits from the Commonwealth treasury. Among the economic benefits were funds to create an air arm.
Argentina had feared what an independent Falkland Islands might mean for its aspirations regarding the territories and there were many islanders who felt that to appear militaristic in anyway might provoke an angry response from their western neighbour. Therefore the duties of securing the airspace around the islands fell to the Police.
All the aircraft operated by the air wing in the early days were donated by the British.
First AircraftEditThe first aircraft to be acquired by the air wing were three ex-RAF DHC Chipmunk trainers. They were flown by seven locals who worked part time for the Police as and when they were required. They flew surveillance missions in clear weather only (a rarity this far south) as well as training other officers to fly the aircraft. The three Chipmunks were serialed RFIP-1, RFIP-2 and RFIP-3.
Given that they were an Island nation there were many who thought that amphibious aircraft would be useful and three ex-RAF Catalina flying boats were given to the islands in 1957 but with an inadequate number of experienced personnel to fly them they were soon returned.
The Avro Lincoln ArrivesEditWith jet bombers quickly replacing the RAF's wartime piston engined aircraft the RAF relinquished four Avro Lincoln bombers for patrol duties around the islands flying from Stanley airport. After initial crew training issues were resolved (thanks largely to the air wing applying for RAF crews to work for them) the aircraft settled in and become regular sights around the islands for the next twenty years. The aircraft came to symbolize the air wing but ironically all four had originally been scheduled for sale to Argentina until the deal fell through. The Lincoln also brought with it the ability to engage a hostile target with its four 20mm cannons mounted in the nose and tail turrets. Although it retained the capability to drop bombs this was never done operationally. More than once the sight of these large and noisy aircraft with its guns was enough to scare off any illegal fishing vessel in Falklands waters.
The Lincolns were finally retired in 1978 after fatigue started to take their toll on the aircraft. There was a genuine sense of regret on the islands at the loss of these magnificent aircraft whose presence served to reassure the islanders they protected. Their role was briefly taken over by a handful of Fairey Gannets acquired from the Royal Navy but these were lost in the Falklands War.
The helicopter offered a new dimension to the air wing's operations which began to include search and rescue operations by the mid 1960s. The first helicopter in service was a Westland Whirlwind (RFIP-12) and overtime the air wing became a primarily helicopter based force operating a variety of types.
Crash of RFIP-03Edit
On June 14th 1961 DHC Chipmunk serialed RFIP-03 crashed twenty miles east of Stanley following engine trouble killing the two crew members. At first it was thought that engine trouble was to blame but investigation revealed it was a bird strike.
Interception of Paulo FrancescaEdit
The 1960s saw a dramatic increase in Argentine efforts to reclaim the islands and on 5th June 1964 Paulo Francesca flew a Cessna 152 light aircraft to the islands from his Patagonian home. He was detected by radar at Stanley airport and an Avro Lincoln was quickly scrambled to intercept him. The Lincoln encountered his aircraft fifty five miles west of the islands and despite threats to shoot him down using the Lincoln's to intimidate him Francesca continued onwards eventually landing at Stanley airport with the Lincoln shadowing.
Upon landing he was arrested and under interrogation he demanded that the islanders give up their claim to the islands and return to Britain (ignoring the fact that the Falklands were now independent from Britain). He was not prosecuted and returned to Argentina as a gesture of good faith.
The Falklands WarEdit
The RFIP flew just one sortie during the Falklands War when one of its Fairey Gannets took off to verify reports of the Argentine flag flying on South Georgia. By the time the aircraft arrived over the small island it was already clear an invasion was on its way and the aircraft was recalled to Stanley. Knowing that the air wing could do little to repel the Argentine invaders the Governor General of the Falkland Territories ordered all the aircraft in the inventory to be set on fire to prevent them from falling into Argentine hands. Four Gannets were burned along with nine Westland Sea King and four Lynx helicopters.
After The WarEdit
With the islanders electing to return to British rule after the war the newly reformed RFIP Air Wing was no longer required to carry out its air policing role since RAF fighters were now based at RAF Mount Pleasant. The Air Wing started its second life operating five Westland Gazelles on regular Police duties as well as assisting in Search and Rescue.