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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
First AWAC returns to base
Families greet the crew
Families greeted the crews just after they got off the plane
The first of the E3 Sentry (AWAC) aircraft involved in operations in the Iraq war returned to RAF Waddington on Thursday.

The AWACs have been patrolling the skies in the gulf region, managing the air space for coalition forces during the conflict.

Almost 700 ground staff and air crew from the RAF base near Lincoln have been based in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of March.

Air crews spent a total of 992 hours flying 88 missions.

Families here have been kept up to date by regular briefings from welfare officers.

To see the green fields of England and patient families was quite a key moment in their day
Station Commander Jeremy Fradgley
The six crews and four E-3D sentry AWACS have played a vital role directing coalition bombers and fighters in the skies above Iraq.

As there were no Iraqi aircraft, most of their time was spent as a mobile air traffic control centre.

But the end of significant fighting has meant the crews can return earlier than families had hoped.

'Demanding environment'

Relatives greeted the crews on the tarmac soon after they landed at 1700 BST.

Station Commander Jeremy Fradgley, who flew in with the returning crews, said: "There was an atmosphere of much joy and jubilation, obviously, as they have been away for just under two months.

"To see the green fields of England and patient families was quite a key moment in their day.

"It's a very demanding environment. We have had an aircraft continually in the skies 24 hours a day for all of the two month deployment."

Dambusters return home
17 Apr 03  |  Scotland
Fact file: E-3 Sentry AWACS
11 Dec 02  |  Americas

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