A NEW Station Commander has taken over at RAF Leeming with big plans to create an innovative hub where the best brains of the air force can try out new ideas.

Group Captain Blythe Crawford has taken over at the North Yorkshire airbase, near Bedale, and its 2,500 personnel.

Originally from Ireland, Group Captain Crawford says he is an adopted Yorkshireman. His wife is from the county and he has served twice at Leeming previously. Joining the RAF in 1993 he spent much of his early career as aircrew on Tornadoes as part of the Quick Reaction Alert force at home and in the Falklands Islands.

His diverse career has taken him abroad many times: in Belgium on the Tactical Leadership Programme and in Baghdad as well as in action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

During his time with 25 Squadron at Leeming he recalls an occasion when they were ‘scrambled’ at 2am and encountered 18 Russian aircraft over the North Sea; eight jets had to respond to deal with the Russian provocation.

Before taking up his post at Leeming he was based in Washington DC at the Pentagon operating between the US Air Force’s top brass and the Chief of the RAF. His commute to work was a leisurely cycle ride at the side of the Potomac River to the building that houses 26,000 staff.

Rather than an anti-climax he regards his latest appointment as a dream job. He said “I was over the moon to come to Yorkshire as my extended family all live here – it’s Gods own country.”

He says Leeming is unique in now reflecting most aspects of the RAF: 100 Squadron has some of the most experienced pilots in the military, 90 Signals Unit, Mountain Rescue, two reserve squadrons, the Joint Forward Air Control Training and Standardisation Unit and an Operational Training Centre, often playing host to 500 visiting military personnel from NATO allies.

He is keen to embrace cutting edge and digital technology to take the RAF into the next 100 years, and also aims to cut out unnecessary bureaucracy.

“I want to create an innovative hub where the best brains of the RAF can try out new ideas. I want my staff to be risk aware, not risk averse. I am really impressed with the quality of young people coming through,” he added.

Gr Capt Crawford plans to maintain and extend the existing strong community links particularly with military veterans, local academia and businesses. After arriving back in Britain he has signed up for the Great North Run and is planning to raise money for the Jon Egging trust in memory of the Red Arrows pilot who lost his life.