Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Kosovo Harriers welcomed home
Safe home: A warm family welcome for the squadron leader
The first British Harriers to return from the Balkans have arrived back at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire.
Delighted wives, children and girlfriends greeted the pilots, after a delay caused by headwinds of up to 90 knots as they flew back from their temporary base at Gioia del Colle in Italy.
The first jet, piloted by Squadron Leader Chris Huckstep, touched down at 1905 BST after a fly-past.
'It's great to be back'
As he stepped onto the tarmac he was greeted by his wife, Gill, and five children, aged between two and 10, who ran to his Harrier to meet him.
"It's great to be back," he said. "I think we showed we can do a good job and that we have what it takes in a combat situation.
"It is not just the time away from home - it's hard flying combat missions against people who are trying to shoot you down.
"Occasionally there were moments of apprehension - as we crossed the border towards Pristina there was a lot of anti-aircraft fire and I thought, 'This looks very unfriendly'.
"There was apprehension, often, but we were too busy to feel any emotion - you put that aside and got on with the job."
He had words of praise for his squadron. "They were courageous, resolute, determined and very professional," he said.
Hundreds of missions
Junior Defence Minister John Spellar was at the base to greet the returning crews.
They had been away for four months, since the start of the Nato campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo.
Acting station commander Wing Commander Les Garside-Beattie said everybody was pleased to have the men back.
"There is a whole raft of emotions that we are feeling on base at the moment," he said.
"At the end of four months of being away, we will all be sharing in the joy that the families are feeling at getting their loved ones back home."
But he added that joy at the pilots' safe return was tempered by the death on Monday of two Gurkhas in Kosovo.
Also returning to RAF Wittering was one of the support craft, an RAF VC-10 tanker.
And more VC-10s landed at RAF Brize Norton from their base in Ancona in Italy at about the same time.
GR1 Tornados also returned on Tuesday evening to RAF Bruggen in Germany, where they were met by the Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson.
American B-52 jets that took part in Nato's first air strikes are planning to leave their British base to go back to the US.
Currently stationed at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, the 11 bombers will fly back to America in "a matter of days", said Captain Angie Jaskiewicz.
But the 900 ground support staff who maintained, armed and refuelled the planes throughout Operation Allied Force will not return home for several weeks, she said.