RAF Riyan, was the smallest of the Arabian route stations and was situated some 273 miles north-east along the coast from Aden in the Quaiti State, which was part of the Eastern Aden Protectorate. In the 1960s, the local ruler was the Sultan of Quaiti and he lived in the nearby city of Mukalla.
The Station itself was a collection of white, flat-topped buildings, and a sandy airstrip in the centre of a shallow scrub-covered desert, surrounded on three sides by high mountains. The station was built in 1945 and most of the buildings are those erected in that year. They were, however, in good condition and were airy and cool. Personnel numbers in barrack rooms varied between eight and twelve with SNCOs occupying individual rooms. There were three messes and an airmenís club run by NAAFI.
The climate at Riyan was relatively good and generally more pleasant than it was in Aden. Cool sea breezes prevented excessive humidity and kept temperatures down even though brilliant sunshine was enjoyed for twelve hours every day. During the hot season, from May to September, the wind blew from the south-west. Sometimes it could be quite strong, inducing heavy afternoon dust storms. During the cool season, the weather was very pleasant and nights were cool enough for personnel to need blankets on their beds and for sweaters to be worn out of doors.
As a route station, Riyan was primarily concerned with the refuelling of RAF aircraft that operated along the South Arabian route, although much of the traffic handled was civilian. Aden Airways DC3 aircraft flew in and out almost every day, maintaining the civilian airline link between Aden and the Eastern Aden Protectorate, particularly the Wadi Hadhramout region. Because of the volume of civilian schedule traffic, Riyan was a very busy airfield for its size.
Riyan was run by a staff of only two officers and thirty airmen of various trades and, being such a small unit, every man had an important part to play in the life of the station. Each man, even to the lowliest aircraftman, held a key post and generally had much more responsibility than would have been exercised on a larger unit. The local people were a mixture of Bedouins, Somalis, Malays and Arabs. Being friendly and honest, a number of them were employed on the Station.
In the life of such a small unit recreational activities played a tremendously important part. At the end of each month a committee of airmen met to plan activities for the ensuing month, varying from snooker tournaments to Station dinner nights, held at suitable intervals.
Cricket and football were played according to season, the latter frequently arranged against local Arab teams and between teams on the Station. Occasionally teams were flown up from Aden to play against Riyan, and these occasions were anticipated with great enthusiasm.
Only a mile from the Station was a wonderful beach and visits were made there every afternoon and on Sunday mornings. Also on Sundays, parties would make the trip to Ghail Ba-Wazir about fourteen miles away, where there was a delightful natural fresh-water pool or go spear-fishing and skin diving around the rocks near Mukalla. Kart meetings were held as often as possible, the station club owning four good go-karts. There was a club operated by NAAFI offering a wide range of goods for sale and indoor activities such as darts, table tennis and snooker.
A wide range of hobbies could be pursued, photography being one of the most popular. To this end, the station had its own darkroom with facilities for developing and printing. Other evening entertainment revolved around an open-air cinema, with both wide screen and cinemascope projectors. Three film shows were put on each week and the films were, in the main, recent issues.