Camouflage and Markings of No. 74 Squadron RAF

Spitfire Site

Pictorial history of the famous "Tiger Squadron", described and illustrated by Rick Kent
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English Electric Lightning F.1
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Coltishall, Norfolk, September 1960
Pilot: Sqn Ldr John F.G. Howe

74 Sqn became the RAF’s first Mach 2 fighter squadron in June 1960 when it received Lightning F.1’s at Coltishall. It was to be the only front-line unit to operate the Mk.1, which it did until April 1964. I have drawn the colour scheme as they first appeared, namely just plain natural metal overall with tiger stripe on the nose and badge on the white disc on the fin. This one also has the Squadron Commander’s pennant below the cockpit screen, together with his name and that of the Crew Chief (hence ‘C.T.’ Rye for Chief Tech.). The Squadron was designated as the official RAF aerobatic team The Tigers to replace the all blue Hunters of 92 Sqn The Blue Diamonds.

The markings soon became more colourful: firstly the entire fins and rudders were painted black (retaining the badge on the white disc); and this black painting was soon extended to cover the whole spine up to the cockpit canopy – as can be seen on the F.3 version immediately below.

Squadron Leader Howe was a South African, the first of his nationality to command 74 since the famous “Sailor” Malan way back in 1940-41 on Spitfires.

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English Electric Lightning F.3
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Leuchars, Fife, 1964

Here’s the F.3 Lightning I mentioned. 74 Squadron re-equipped with this mark in April 1964, having moved to Leuchars in Scotland (near to St Andrews and its famous golf course for those interested in these things) on 2 March 1964. The Squadron continued with the same colour scheme as finally used on the Mk.1’s, only slightly altered to fit the shape of the different fin. Also some of the various warning and stencil markings were different. This style of very colourful markings on the fins and fuselage spines was popular on the Lightning squadrons at this time for only a few years before Fighter Command banned them all. This ban, however, only applied to those based in the UK so, as you will see from the next profile of the Mk.6, 74 Squadron were able to get away with reinstating their black fins on the later Mk.6’s after they moved to Singapore in June 1967.

The F.3 remained with the Squadron until January 1967, re-equipment with the 6’s commencing in November 1966.

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BAC Lightning F.6
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Tengah, Singapore, 1971

Here’s the F.6 Lightning, with the black fin. As stated above, the Squadron received these originally at Leuchars from November 1966 and Moved to Tengah in June 1967. Their last task with the Lightnings was to fly them to Akrotiri in Cyprus to replace the F.3’s of 56 Squadron, 74 Squadron being disbanded at the same time, August 1971. Note that only the fins were black on the 6’s and the fin flash is back to the original style; also the white disc with tiger head is a bit smaller than on the previous F.3’s.

74 Squadron was not reformed again until October 1984, when it received the ex-US Navy/Marines F-4J’s that were purchased for the RAF for UK air defence to replace the Phantoms of 23 Squadron that had been sent to the Falkland Islands after the war with Argentina.

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McDonnel Phantom F-4J(UK)
74 Squadron, Royal Air Force
Wattisham, Suffolk, 1989

74 Squadron was reformed with the 2nd-hand ex-USN/USMC Phantom F-4J(UK) in October 1984. At first all but the Squadron Commander’s aircraft had just grey fins but fairly soon they all acquired black ones as shown. As you can see the Tiger Head appears both on the fin and the nose.

As regards the camouflage colours, these aircraft were slightly different in shades of grey from normal RAF colours since they were repainted as part of their refurbishment in the USA, using the nearest equivalent FS595a shades. So, the undersurfaces were FS 36440; upper surfaces of fuselage and outer wing panels Flint Grey FS 36314; and upper surfaces of inner wing panels FS 36270. A few of the F-4J’s were repainted shortly before retirement with the normal RAF greys but not many. In service the American paints tended to change colour quite a lot, one which I saw about 1989 having gone a very greenish shade!

In early 1991 74 gave up the F-4J and shared Phantom FGR.2’s with 56 Squadron, its sister Squadron at Wattisham, but this only lasted until 1st October 1992 when 74 became a Reserve Squadron flying Hawks with 4 Flying Training School.

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Hawker Siddeley Hawk T.1
74 (Reserve) Squadron, 4 Flying Training School, Royal Air Force
Valley, Anglesey, October 1992

This is the last of the 74 Squadron a/c. On 1st October 1992 74 became 74 (Reserve) Squadron of 4 Flying Training School. This particular Hawk T.1 was painted specially for display purposes. It was actually repainted like this in September before 74 officially reformed. The Squadron still flies its Hawks from Valley, and all black has, of course, since become the official colouring of all RAF training aircraft. However this one pre-dates that era and hence the roundels are not outlined in white; also the Squadron markings on this particular one only were much more profuse and larger than the usual, in particular the huge Tiger on the fin and the number 74.

So that’s it for the history in profile form of Tiger Squadron RAF. I hope you enjoyed it.

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By charles cameron carruthers  |  2016-03-04 at 10:57  |  permalink

Brilliant illustrations of 74 Sqn lightnings as I remember them from RAF Leuchars and RAF Tengah .I was stationed at both in the Commcen but was piper to 74 for various engagements as I played with Seletar Pipes and Drums before they were disbanded in 1968. I am an associate member of the 74 Sqn association, long may it continue !!!!. Tiger Tiger burning bright… I FEAR NO MAN but I fear the wife!!!

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