THE Dambusters squadron has made an emotional return to the UK as it completed its final mission as a Tornado unit.
Created during the Second World War, 617 Squadron carried out the "bouncing bomb" raid to destroy dams in Nazi Germany.
The unit is being disbanded on April 1 as part of the planned draw down of the Tornado GR4 force, but it will reform in 2016, taking delivery of the Lightning II fighter.
The squadron, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, left for Afghanistan in October on its final deployment to provide aerial reconnaissance for Afghan-led ground forces.
More than 100 returning airmen lined up outside a hangar at Lossiemouth yesterday and the theme music from the 1955 Dam Busters film was played as they saluted senior officers, before running into the hangar to be reunited with family and friends.
Flight Lieutenant Andy Power, from Elgin, Moray, was greeted by daughter Jessica, 7, and son Harry, 3.
He said: "When you think of the RAF and everything it has done, 617 is in most thoughts, so it's just great to be able to say that I flew with it in some form."
The squadron has twice been disbanded and reformed as it has moved from operating the Lancaster to the Vulcan to the Tornado.
There are about 175 personnel in 617, all of whom will transfer to other Tornado squadrons, retrain on the Typhoon or move elsewhere in the organisation. When it reforms, it will be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Squadron leader Mark Jackson, from Luton, Bedfordshire, said: "It was a real privilege that I ended up flying the last sortie on operations."
The disbandment opens the way for the move of Typhoon squadrons from Leuchars in Fife to Lossiemouth, with about 350 service personnel moving to the Moray station later this year.
Wing Commander David Arthurton, from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, was in charge of 617 during its final tour.
He said: "For the majority of the deployment we just got on with business, but with the final flight approaching everyone was aware it was a special moment."
The squadron was created in 1943 to carry out attacks with drum-shaped bombs that bounced over water and exploded at the base of dam walls in the Ruhr valley. Germany.
Today, RAF pilots fly at least 250ft above ground, but the Dambusters flew at only 60ft, often at night.