Royal West Florida Air Force (RWFAF) 1960s:
Maintaining their fleet of 40 aircraft, the RWFAF added several new, important capabilities throughout the 1960s.
The Hawker Sea Furies would be the RWFAF’s last propeller-driven fighter, replaced in 1962 by 14 Canadair Sabre Mk.6 jet fighters. The RWFAF Sabres were ex Canadian aircraft which had been replaced in RCAF service by new CF-104 Starfighters. The sale of the aircraft to West Florida also included conversion & follow-on training for RWFAF pilots & technicians. The Canadair Sabre was built under licence from North American Aviation, a variant of the American built F-86 Sabre. The Mk.6 was patterned on the later versions of the US Sabre, with larger wings for improved manoeuvrability while replacing the original GE J47 engine with the locally designed, more-powerful Avro Canada Orenda. The Mk. 6 is widely considered the best of all Sabre variants.
Despite the robustness & versatility of the C-47 Dakota, by the late 1950s the RWFAF was looking for a replacement with greater cargo capacity & longer range. Unlike older, World War Two era transport aircraft derived from passenger airliners, the Lockheed Hercules was designed specifically as a combat transport, with a pressurised cabin & rear ramp, allowing bulk loading & dispatch of cargo. Its turboprop powerplant gave the Hercules a range of 2,000km & the ability to operate from short & unprepared strips. So, in 1963, No.3 Squadron’s venerable Dakotas were retired & replaced with by four Lockheed C-130E Hercules. The extended-range C-130E model was essentially a B-model with the addition of 1,360 US gal (5,150 L) Sargent Fletcher external fuel tanks under each wing's midsection & more powerful Allison T56-A-7A turboprops. The E model also featured structural improvements, avionics upgrades, & the four-bladed propellers that had become standard on the B-model. The Hercules represented a huge improvement over the C-47 in terms of payload, range, speed & manoeuvrability, giving the West Florida military its first strategic airlift capability.
In 1962 No.471 Flight was raised, becoming the RWFAF’s dedicated maritime patrol force. It was named in honour of the Article XV squadron who flew with the RAF’s Coastal Command during World War Two. The new unit’s blue & white colours were taken from the flag of Shetland, in memory of 471 Squadron’s service in Shetland & Scotland during the Second World War, & the flaming torch on the their crest was borrowed from the badge of RAF Swinderby, where 471 Squadron was raised. The Lockheed P-2 Neptune had been developed for the US Navy to replace World War Two era patrol bombers such as the PV-1 Ventura & PV-2 Harpoon. A major factor in the design was ease of manufacture & maintenance, & this may have been a major factor in the type's long life & worldwide success. The Neptune was equipped with sonobuoys that could be launched from a station in the aft portion of the fuselage & monitored by radio. It also had a Magnetic Anomaly Detector fitted in an extended tail, & a belly-mounted surface-search radar which enabled detection of surfaced & snorkelling submarines. While the P-2 was replaced in USN service by the P-3 Orion during the 1960s, the Neptune remained in operational service with Naval Reserve squadrons & other armed forces. The RWFAF received two ex-USN P-2H Neptunes in 1962. They became the initial aircraft of No.471 Flight, replacing the PV-3 Ventura IIs previously flown by No.4 Squadron.
After retiring its Lockheed Ventura IIs the previous year, No.4 Squadron became the RWFAF’s first operational helicopter squadron in 1963 when it received six UH-1 Iroquois, followed by six Westland Wessex in 1964. The RWFAF had selected the AB-204 variant of the Iroquois, licence-built by Agusta in Italy. This was because the Italian built machines used a derivative of the de Havilland Gnome engine also powering the Westland Wessex that were on order. Agusta had also supplied these aircraft to Sweden, Austria & the Netherlands. The “Hueys” of A Flight were put to work in a variety of roles including search & rescue, battlefield reconnaissance, artillery observation, medevac, & training. They could also be employed in the gunship role, armed with a pair of M157 rocket launchers & twin M-60 machine gun mounts for two door gunners. B Flight received the first of its six Westland Wessex in 1964. The Wessex was a British-built turbine-powered development of the Sikorsky H-34, produced under licence by Westland Aircraft. One of the main changes from Sikorsky's H-34 was the replacement of the piston-engine powerplant with a turboshaft engine. In addition to its Royal Navy service, the Wessex was also successfully employed as a utility helicopter by the RAF. Their improved HC.2 variant was powered by coupled de Havilland Gnome engines, which provided nearly double the power of the original single-engine model & hugely expanded the aircraft's range & this was the variant purchased by the RWFAF, capable of ferrying up to 16 troops or a 4,000-pound payload of supplies. The HC.2’s ability to operate in a wide range of weather conditions as well as at night, also made it well-suited to search & rescue (SAR) operations.
Diplomatic relations with the United States:
Increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, along with West Florida’s refusal to participate in the conflict, threatened to strain diplomatic relations between the two countries. These tensions were eased, however, when West Florida committed to putting additional pressure on the growing Soviet presence in the region following the Cuban Missile Crisis. From 1964, regular patrols were undertaken by the navy’s two Collingwood class frigates & the air force’s P-2 Neptune maritime patrol aircraft.