17 Apr 2002 12:41 PM

The Royal Air Force has appointed its first female squadron commander. Squadron Leader Nicky Smith - herself a helicopter pilot - has taken charge of a squadron of Wessex helicopters on Cyprus.

Nicky, 33, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, joined the RAF in 1986 as a University Cadet, while studying aeronautical engineering at Cambridge University. She graduated from RAF College, Cranwell in 1990, when women were first accepted as aircrew, winning the Sash of Merit as the best female student. She completed Elementary Flying Training at Swinderby on the Chipmunk and Basic Flying Training at Cranwell on the Jet Provost (both fixed wing) aircraft, before going to RAF Shawbury for helicopter flying training on the Gazelle and Wessex.

She has served on two Search and Rescue Squadrons - 22 and 202 - based at RAF Valley in North Wales and RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, flying more than 250 rescue missions in the distinctive yellow Sea King helicopter.

Nicky was promoted to Squadron Leader in 1999 and, after doing ground-based jobs at RAF Cranwell, was posted to 72 Squadron at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, to train on the Wessex. Nicky Smith is now Officer Commanding 84 Squadron, which has been on Cyprus since 1972.

"I'm delighted to be in charge of a squadron", Nicky commented. "Most squadrons are commanded by Wing Commanders, which is a rank higher than mine. So it's a fantastic opportunity to be able to do it at my age and rank. It's a particular privilege to be given command of a squadron with such a long and distinguished history as 84 Squadron."

"Ever since I can remember I've always wanted to be a helicopter pilot", she added. "I'm one of those very lucky people to have actually achieved my childhood dream. Being a woman has not made any difference - I've always been treated the same as the men. Women have been flying all kinds of aircraft in the RAF - fast jets and large transporters as well as helicopters - for more than a decade now, so there's nothing new in that.


1. 84 Squadron was formed on 7 January 1917 and flew offensive patrols over the Western Front with its SE5As. The Squadron earned a reputation for destroying enemy observational balloons. For the next two decades, it policed the air over Iraq and Mesopotamia, equipped first with DH9As, than Wapitis, Vincents and Blenheims. In 1940, the Squadron moved to Egypt to join the bombing campaign in the Western Desert. The unit subsequently served in Greece, the Far East, then in India, re-equipped with Vengeance dive-bombers.

After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, now flying Mosquitos, the Squadron moved to Java, then Singapore. Re-equipping with Brigands, they joined Operation Firedog against Malayan terrorists.

In 1953, 84 Squadron became a transport squadron, flying Valetta and was involved in troop-drops during the Suez campaign. Later, the unit flew Beverleys, then Andovers until the British withdrawal from the Middle East.

84 Squadron has been in Cyprus since 1972, flying Whirlwind helicopters until it received Wessex helicopters in 1982. In 1983, these aircraft were used to evacuate UN peacekeeping troops from Beirut, and remain on standby to assist the international force both on Cyprus.

2. For more information please contact Marcia Nash or Wing Commander Ian Tolfts, Directorate of Corporate Communications (Royal Air Force) tel 0207 218 2480 or 7910. Pictures can be obtained from these contacts.

3. The MoD web-site can be found at http://www.mod.uk It provides a link to our on-line news service, UK Defence Today, which can also be accessed directly at http://news.mod.uk. Alternatively you may contact the MoD Press Office by e-mail at press@dgics.mod.uk.