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RAF Leuchars, Sidewinder Missiles & UStABC

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

When Paul Maw arrived at St Andrews in September 1975, there was no rowing activity to speak of. Paul had come up from Sir William Borlase Grammar, where he had been an avid rower. On a scouting trip down to the River Eden, Paul discovered the old boat house, which still (just about) stands today.

The original UStABC boat house on the banks of the Eden River (2014)

Paul cleared out the building and put down a landing stage, giving him access to the river. Eventually, he succeeded in sourcing an old single from London and began a painstaking restoration process to get the boat floating! After a year of repairs, Paul ventured out on the waters of the Eden and built the club membership up to 4 or 5 others who occasionally joined him.

1975, the year of Paul's arrival at St Andrews, was proving to be a busy time at Leuchars RAF Base. Leuchars had been a hive of activity throughout the 60s and 70s, in the midst of the Cold War. In November 1975, No.111 Squadron, comprising of Phantom FGR.2 fighter aircraft, relocated to RAF Leuchars from their former base at RAF Coningsby. The jets had relocated north to police the UK air defence region, providing a similar role to the Typhoon aircraft still flying from Leuchars today (albeit temporarily during 2020!)

Paul recalls that he often took to the river at high tide, the only really feasible conditions for rowing on the Eden. It was during one of these evening outings that Paul recalls a wall of noise hitting him, turning to see a sidewinder missile zooming across the estuary before lodging into the bank of the Eden!

It transpires that on the ground at Leuchars, a No.111 Squadron Phantom was being checked over prior to a training exercise. As the pilot ran pre-flight checks, an electrical short circuit caused the sidewinder missile to fire from the rail which subsequently ploughed a furrow across the airfield, narrowly missed Paul and lodged into the banks of the Eden!

The incident was followed by an announcement on the BBC the following morning that, "a missile was fired at RAF Leuchars last night..."

Our thanks to Paul Kawachi (Maw) for bringing this story to our attention!

Story sources: Fighters Over The Falklands By David Gledhill The Phantom In Focus By David Gledhill

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