The History of Nicosia Airport

UN Flying from Nicosia (1964-today)

The author wishes to thank Tony Law and Sid Nanson for their assistance with this page.
Tony was seconded to 21 (Para) Flight in March 1964 and Sid was based with the UN Flight, Army Air Corps in 1979/1980.

Tony Law (left) and Sid Nanson (right) photographed in 1964 & 1980

The story begins on the 26th December 1963 when it was agreed that the British Army should participate in a Joint Force...........also known as the Truce Force.
The aim of the Joint/Truce Force was to monitor an already agreed but very fragile creasefire between Greek & Turkish Cypriots and to prevent further hostilities breaking out.
For full details of this operation follow this link.......the website opens in a new window.

Already in Cyprus were RAF Whirlwind (230Sqn) & Sycamore (1563 Flight) helicopters and the arrival of 21 (Para) Flight AAC on New Year's Day 1964 added three Scout helicopters and three Auster fixed-wing aircraft to the list of available air assets.

A very grainy image of a 21 (Para) Flight Scout helicopter used by General Young (Commander Truce Force) waiting at the Episkopi airstrip in early 1964

The area around the Truce Force HQ at the Cornaro Hotel shows a landing ground for the Auster aircraft (across the golf course)

An Auster of the Truce Force on a convoy escort mission in early 1964
Further details from Tony Law.........."There was 
regular military vehicle traffic between different locations but lone vehicles were often shot up or ambushed.
It was decided that the vehicles could only travel in convoy escorted by armoured cars, one at the front and one behind. We often flew convoy escort, around the convoy and ahead of it, looking for any potential trouble they might encounter".
The image is © Crown copyright. IWM (CT 24)

On March 27th 1964 the Truce Force handed over operations to the United Nations and a UN Flight was established at RAF Nicosia using existing assets.
Reinforcements, in the form of 19 Liaison Flight AAC, were immediately sent to Cyprus in March 1964 which added an additional three Scout helicopters and three de Havilland Beavers (XP814, XP816 and XP825).

One of the three Beavers of 19 Liaison Flight AAC on UN duty in Nicosia (an Auster can be seen in the background)
A 45 gallon oil-drum full of AVGAS on top of boarding steps can be seen to the left of the tail fin......see the Auster refuelling description
Image courtesy of Neil Aird's

The Sycamores of 1563 Flight departed shortly afterwards and moved to RAF Akrotiri in April 1964.

With their six month tour of duty completed, 21 Flight AAC left Cyprus in June 1964. The 19 Flight Beavers flew to Aden and two of the three 21 Flight Scouts were loaded into RAF Beverely transport aircraft and returned to the UK.

A Scout helicopter being loaded into a Beverely transport aircraft at RAF Nicosia.

Note: The Beavers flew via El Adem, Wadi Halfa and Asmara and arrived in Aden three days later (25 hours 20 minutes flying time).
Click this link to open/download the full story of this epic journey (article courtesy of the AAC Association Journal 1965)

This left the UN Flight operated by the remaining 19 Flight personnel with four Scout helicopters and three Auster fixed-wing aircraft together with the Whirlwind detachment operated for the UN by 230 Sqn RAF.

Tony Law photographed next to one of the Austers at the UN Flight in Nicosia (April 1964)
Image courtesy of Tony Law

A 230 Sqn RAF Whirlwind exercising with Swedish UN troops
Image from the Blue Beret magazine

Tony Law remembers his experience of flying in the Auster........

"I did a lot of flying mainly in Austers as an observer. At the time there were no AAC Observer courses it was a case of local training to meet operational requirements. The observers were volunteers from ground crew with a dedicated pilot per pupil. My pilot was Lt Fleming, a Parachute Regiment pilot, who was a real cowboy and no one else liked flying with him. The reason I volunteered to do the course was because an Auster often took off at first light and didn't get back until last light and they needed a Tech to go with them for refuels etc when away from base. The Auster was a tad under-powered  which was a problem taking off with full fuel. The Pilot and Observer sat side by side up front and a Tech in the back. Joint 'Tech/Observers' therefore reduced the payload. I was awarded my 'O' Brevet at the end of the course plus flying pay of 15/9d per week".

Tony also recalls the reasons for the missions............

"After the EOKA campaign a lot of weapons were hidden in caves in the Troodos mountains which only accesable by by narrow tracks.
When the troubles started the weapons re-emerged and were brought down the mountains on the backs of donkeys. One of our jobs was to try and spot them and liaise with ground troops to intercept them. It was mainly the Austers that did that job. I personally didn't spot any but others did".

An Auster of 21 (Para) Flight flying over St Hilarion Castle following the fierce fighting there in April 1964

Tony Law describes the refuelling system for the Austers..........

"We shared a dispersal with RAF Hastings. The Crabs (slang for RAF personnel ) had big AVGAS bowsers to fill them up but they wouldn't come out to to put a trickle in the Austers to top them up after a sortie. We aquired a set of aircraft boarding steps and put an empty 45 gallon drum on the top, a rubber hose from it and the tap from a Burco boiler on the other end. The RAF came out once a day to top the drum up. We also used the drum to fill up Jerry Cans and used them to top up the Austers. Through a 'B' type filter of course". 

The Auster refuelling "station" with Beaver XP814 and two RAF Hastings transport aircraft in the background
Photograph courtesy of Tony Law

3 Flight AAC arrived for a six month tour in August 1964 to replace the departing 19 Flight.

The end of 1964 saw the long serving 230 Sqn RAF return to Germany being replaced for only a couple of months by 22 Sqn RAF.

In February 1965 Wessex helicopters of 18 Sqn RAF replaced the Whirlwinds of 22 Sqn RAF. Also in this month, 6 Flight AAC replaced 3 Flight AAC.
Note: Although the RAF helicopters stayed for longer periods, personnel rotated every two months.

The Wessex helicopter was used to resupply isolated OPs

August 1965 saw 21 Flight AAC return for a second tour of duty replacing 6 Flight AAC.

4 Air OP Flight RA took over from 21 Flight AAC in February 1966 with the Sioux helicopter replacing the Scout.

The greater load capacity of the 4 Air OP Troop's Sioux allowed their use in some of the resupply flights usually reserved for the larger Wessex helicopter

July 1966 was a significant month that saw the fixed-wing Austers leave Cyprus.

On the 1st August 1966 the "HQ UNFICYP Flight AAC" was formed.
From now on this unit would have its own dedicated resources with personnel being "trickle posted" for a three year tour of duty.
18Sqn RAF continued in the heavy lift/resupply role until the end of 1966 when they were replaced by 72 Sqn RAF.

The hangar photographed shortly after the formation of the UNFICYP Flight
Image via Sid Nanson

In March 1968, four Whirlwinds of 230 Sqn flew to Cyprus over a number of days using the deployment as a training exercise. This squadron replaced 72Sqn who returned to the UK.

Three of the Whirlwinds 'cooling down' at RAF Nicosia following their arrival
Note: All the helicopters arrived within 5 minutes of their ETA.

UN Sioux over Kyrenia in August 1971 (Image via Sid Nanson)

The UN Flight remained unchanged for a number of years (a mixture of Sioux and Whirlwind) until 230Sqn RAF was disbanded in December 1971.
In January 1972, at RAF Akrotiri, 84 Sqn RAF was reformed and their 'B' Flight Whirlwinds flew in support of the UN.

The Whirlwinds of "B" Flight carried no RAF insignia but sported the Scorpion emblem of No 84 Squadron on a pale blue field on each side of the fuselage nose
Image and description courtesy of the AviaDejaVu website

These resources with additional Royal Navy helicopters were used extensively during the troubles of July/August 1974. Nicosia Airport, the base for the UN helicopters, became known as the United Nations Protected Area (UNPA).......see the 'Events of 1974' on this website.

Post 1974, helicopter operations remained similar in role but were geographically more defined (the scattered areas of operations coalesced into the 180km long Buffer Zone). Many of the very isolated OPs high in the Kyrenia Mountains were no longer UN positions.

The Sioux helicopter used by the UN Flight was replaced by the Alouette in December 1977.

An Alouette bringing Christmas cheer to outlying UN OPs.........December 1979

An Alouette hovering outside the UN Flight hangar

Miss BA helps to push an Alouette helicopter into the hanger in early 1980
The above three photographs are courtesy of Sid Nanson

84 Sqn replaced their Whirlwinds with the Wessex in March 1982 and the Alouettes were replaced by the Gazelle in October 1988.

An UNFICYP Flight Gazelle flying over the mountains in Sector 1 (the western end of the Buffer Zone).........dated November 1990

In September 1994 the Argentinian Air Force took over all UN flying operations.

Click this link or the image to see the full image

Two of the Argentinian helicopters based at the UNPA (a Hughes 500 and Bell 412)

For the last 23 years (to 2017) the Argentinian UNFICYP Flight has provided daily patrols of the Buffer Zone to ensure that the 'status quo' is maintained.