Major Royal Air Force Stations
The Stations of the Royal Air Force are extremely complex organisations. Many of them are situated in remote locations, as operations such as night flying need to be situated away from centres of population. In the case of our major operating bases, the aircraft that make up the front line of the service require aircrew, maintenance, electronics and armaments experts, air traffic control and a host of other vital services. The personnel providing these services need accommodation, catering, and access to the other facilities that make up everyday life, such as banks, shops, and post offices. The Station is in fact a small town, self-contained and self-reliant.
First opened in 1918 for a year, Aldergrove became a fully operational flying Station in 1925. Operating as an important Coastal Command Station throughout World War Two, Aldergrove is now home to a mixed force of helicopters operating in support of the British Army. 5 Puma HC1s of 72 Squadron and 13 Puma HC1s of 230 Squadron make up the permanently based force, but there are regular detachments from other Puma and Chinook Squadrons. No 3 Squadron of the RAF Regiment are the Field Squadron based at Aldergrove. Two Army Air Corps units are also based at Aldergrove.
Opened in 1939 as part of the RAF's expansion programme, Benson was home to No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit throughout the Second World War. Post War, in 1946, the Station became the home of Royal flying, The Queen's Flight not moving to RAF Northolt until 1995. Currently the 15 Pumas of 33 Squadron, the Oxford University Air Squadron with Tutor T1s and No 6 Air Experience Flight are based at Benson. Two RAuxAF/RAF Reserve units are also located here in the form of the Helicopter Support Squadron and the Mobile Meteorological Unit. Benson is also the home of the first Merlin HC3s in RAF service. These are operated by No 28 Squadron.
The largest RAF Station in the UK, Brize Norton is the nerve centre of the RAF's air transport capabilities. Opened in 1937, the Station was used to train airborne forces, before being handed over to the USAF in 1950. Strategic Air Command based B-29 and B-47 bombers at Brize, before the RAF reclaimed the Station for use as a tanker and transport base. Currently based at Brize Norton are the 11 VC10 C1Ks of 10 Squadron, the 8 VC10 K3 and K4s of 101 Squadron, the 8 Tristar K1, KC1, C2 and C2As of 216 Squadron, the 4 C-17s of 99 Squadron and No 2624 (County of Oxford) Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment Field Squadron and sister RAuxAF Squadron, No. 4624. Also based at Brize Norton is No 1 Parachute Training School, which includes the RAF Parachute Display Team, the Falcons.
Always a fighter Station, Coltishall opened in May of 1940 and was initially home to night-fighter, intruder and anti-shipping Squadrons. Coltishall includes the distinction of being the first RAF Station to operate the English Electric Lightning all-weather fighter in its long list of achievements and is currently home to the entire RAF Jaguar fleet of aircraft. No 6 Squadron operates in the fighter-bomber role equipped with Jaguar GR3A strike aircraft, and Jaguar T2A two-seat advanced training and conversion aircraft, whilst No 41 Squadron with Jaguar GR3s and T2As specializing in the photographic reconnaissance role.
Originally a heavy bomber base as part of No 5 Group Bomber Command, Coningsby opened in 1940, and maintained its link with the heavy bomber force until 1964 when the Vulcan Squadrons based there moved to Cottesmore. Coningsby became the first RAF Station to operate the Air Defence Variant of the Tornado, the Tornado F2 and later F3. Preparations for the arrival of the first RAF Typhoons in 2004 meant that No 56 (Reserve) Squadron, the Tornado F3 Operational Conversion Unit with its Tornado F3s moved north to Leuchars whilst the Tornado F3 Operational Evaluation Unit moved to nearby RAF Waddington.
Today, the station is home to the Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit (FJWOEU), a merger of the Strike/Attack OEU (previously at Boscombe Down), the Tornado F3 OEU and the Air-Guided Weapons OEU (from RAF Valley) and the first RAF Typhoon squadron, 17 (Reserve). This unit is tasked with operational testing and evaluation of existing and forthcoming aircraft and weapons (such as Brimstone and Storm Shadow). Also resident at Coningsby are the world-famous Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which operates 5 Spitfires of various Marks, the only flying Lancaster in Europe, two Hurricanes, a Dakota and two Chipmunks.
A wartime expansion airfield with a very interesting history, Cottesmore has been used variously as a bomber, training, troop carrier and electronic counter measures base. In 1976, the Station was upgraded to operate the Interdictor Strike version of the Tornado in a unique way. For 20 years until April 1999, the major operational unit based at Cottesmore was the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE), with Tornado GR1s. TTTE carried out all the conversion training on the type for the RAF, Italian and German Air Forces. But with the decision to relocate Tornado training to member nations, the TTTE was disbanded. Within weeks however, flying returned to the Station when, in preparation for the station becoming the home to all front-line RAF Harrier squadrons, Nos. 3 and 4 Squadrons moved their 26 Harrier GR7s and T10s from RAF Laarbruch after it was closed. A few months later, No 1(F) Squadron left nearby Wittering after 31 years for Cottesmore bringing its 12 Harrier GR7s and 1 T10. Also based here is the Offensive Support Squadron manned by members of the RAuxAF.
Originally HMS Daedalus, a Royal Naval Air Service training and airship base, the site that is now RAF Cranwell was taken over by the RAF in 1918 for officer cadet training, a role it fulfills to this day at the famous RAF College. Currently based at Cranwell are No 3 Flying Training School who operate newly arrived King Air twin-engined aircraft (45 (Reserve) Squadron), 8 Dominie T1s (55 (Reserve) Squadron) and 16 Tutor T1s and carry out Basic Flying Training. Also based on the main airfield is the RAF College Air Squadron with Tutor T1s, and on the Cranwell North grass airfield is the Cranwell Gliding Club, part of the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association (RAFGSA). The Air Warfare Centre is based at Cranwell, as is the Aerosystems Department, a specialist training division. Cranwell also has a satellite airfield, RAF Barkston Heath, which is described separately.
Originally opened in 1937 as a bomber base, Honington is now the RAF Regiment Depot, the last aircraft having left in 1993 when the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit moved to Lossiemouth.
Opened in 1939 and initially used for training heavy bomber crews, RAF Kinloss began a long association with Coastal Command with the arrival of 6 OTU training aircrew on Beaufighters and Mosquitos. Lancasters and Shackletons followed, before the Nimrod entered service at Kinloss in 1971. Kinloss is now home to the entire RAF Nimrod MR2 fleet of 21 aircraft, split between Nos 120 and 201 Squadrons. An additional 3 Nimrod MR2s are also based at Kinloss, operated by No 42 (Reserve) Squadron, the Nimrod Operational Conversion Unit. Two glider units also operate out of Kinloss, the Fulmar Gliding Club of the RAFGSA and No 663 Volunteer Gliding School, operating Vigilant T1s.
RAF Leeming began operations as a bomber station in July 1940 operating Whitley, Sterling, Halifax and Lancaster aircraft during the Second World War. After the War the Station became a night fighter base, equipped initially with the Mosquito and then with the Meteor and Javelin before becoming a Training Command airfield in 1961. The Station was then home to No. 3 Flying Training School, equipped with the Jet Provost, until the mid-1980s when a major refurbishment programme began to prepare the Station for Tornado F3 operations.
The Station reopened in 1988 as a Tornado F3 Main Operating Base and today is part of No. 11/18 Group within Strike Command and home to two Tornado F3 Squadrons - No. XI(F) Squadron and No. 25(F) Squadron. The squadrons are part of the UK's air defence fighter force and are declared to both the UK's Joint Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's Immediate Reaction Force (Air). Leeming is also home to two other high-readiness units with both national and NATO commitments - No. 34 Squadron RAF Regiment and No. 2 RAF Tactical Survive To Operate HQ. Also at Leeming is No. 100 Squadron, equipped with Hawk aircraft in the target facilities role along with exercise and training support, and the Joint Forward Air Controllers Training and Standards Unit, which also utilizes the Hawk. Other units at Leeming include the Air Defence Support Squadron, an RAuxAF unit, and Northumbrian Universities Air Squadron and No. 11 Air Experience Flight, which are equipped with the Tutor aircraft. Finally, the Station also has a Mountain Rescue Team consisting of 5 permanent staff and about 20 volunteers from around the Station.
Leuchars' association with aviation can be traced back to 1911 when military balloons were operated at the site. Its long history includes being used as an RNAS fleet fighter Station, and later as a Coastal Command airfield. After the Second World War, Leuchars became a Fighter Command Station, and continues in this role today as one of the RAF's Air Defence bases. The 22 Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) built at Leuchars currently house the 13 Tornado F3s of 43 Squadron and the 12 Tornado F3s of 111 Squadron whilst the more recently arrived No 56 (Reserve) Squadron and its aircraft occupy more traditional hangars at the station. Aberdeen, Dundee and St Andrew's University Air Squadron operate the Tutor T1 and the airfield is also home to an RAF Mountain Rescue Unit and the Air Transportable Surgical Unit.
One of the busiest training airfields in the RAF, Linton-on-Ouse has been used as a Bomber, Transport and Fighter airfield in its long and interesting history since it opened in 1937. Since 1957 the main role of the Station has been pilot training, initially with the Jet Provost, but now with the Tucano T1. No 1 Flying Training School operates no fewer than 78 Tucano T1s at Linton-on-Ouse, providing basic flying instruction. Some aircraft are in the markings of Nos 72 (Reserve) and 207 (Reserve) Squadrons. Also flying at Linton is No 642 Volunteer Gliding School, equipped with Vigilant T1s.
RAF Lossiemouth was built during 1938 and 1939 and opened on Ma 1, 1939 with No 15 Flying Training School as the major unit. In April 1940, the station was handed over to Bomber Command and No 20 Operational Training Unit was formed together with No 46 Maintenance Unit.
At the end of the World War II hostilities, the station became a satellite of RAF Milltown in Coastal Command before becoming HMS Fulmar of the Royal Navy in 1946, the primary task being Fleet Air Arm operations.
With the impending demise of aircraft carriers, the RAF returned on 28 September 1972 and the station has steadily assumed greater status since then. Aircraft types have included Whirlwind, Jaguar, Shackleton, Sea King, Hunter, Buccaneer and Tornado employed in various roles including search and rescue, airborne early warning, operational conversion unit, tactical weapons unit and maritime strike/attack. Ground-based units have included the air and ground defence, airfield damage repair and airfield support roles.
With its present Tornado GR4 compliment of 3 operational units - Nos 12, 14 and 617 Squadrons and one operational conversion unit - No XV (Reserve) Squadron, its Sea King HAR 3A helicopter search and rescue unit - 'D' Flight, No 202 Squadron and 2 ground defence units - Nos 51 and 2622 (Highland) Squadrons RAF Regiment, RAF Lossiemouth is one of the foremost stations in the Royal Air Force.
Initially a flying training base, Lyneham quickly became a centre for the role it is still famous for, Air Transport. The Station became the first RAF airfield to operate jet transports when the first Comet C2s arrived in 1956. Now the RAF's major tactical transport Station, the airfield is home to the Hercules C1/C3 aircraft operated by Nos 24, 30, 47 and 70 Squadrons. The Hercules Operational Conversion Unit, No 57 (Reserve) Squadron operates 5 Hercules C1/C3s at Lyneham, which is also home to No 4626 (County of Wiltshire) Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, RAuxAF, and the UK Mobile Air Movements Squadron, responsible for establishing handling facilities at temporary bases. The original Hercules' are now being replaced by the second-generation C-130J in RAF service. This comes in two versions, the stretched Hercules C4 and the standard C5 version.
Part of the site now occupied by RAF Marham had originally been RNAS Station Narborough during the First World War. Developed during the 1930s, Marham has been used as a heavy bomber and fighter Station, before it became the RAF's major reconnaissance base in 1993. Currently operating from Marham are No II(AC) Squadron and No 13 Squadron, both equipped with Tornado GR4As, Nos IX(B) and 31 Squadrons with Tornado GR4s as well as No 39 (1 PRU) Squadron, which operates 5 Canberra PR9s and 2 Canberra T4s. No 2620 (County of Norfolk) Squadron, RAuxAF, is also based here.
One of the key airfields in the defence of London during the Battle of Britain, Northolt became the major airport for London in 1946, until the new site at Heathrow opened. Transport Command continued using Northolt after this, and the role of providing VIP air transport is the major task of the airfield today. The unit based at Northolt responsible for VIP transport is No 32 (Royal) Squadron which operates 6 BAe125s, 2 BAe146s and 3 Squirrel HCC1s, and incorporates the aircraft of the former Queen's Flight. Lesser units based at Northolt include No. 1 (County of Middlesex) Maritime Headquarters Unit, No 1 Aeronautical Information Documents Unit and a small Station Flight operating a single Islander CC2.
Originally a temporary Summer Landing Ground, Odiham opened in 1936 as an Army Co-operation base. Tactical reconnaissance and fighter roles followed before the base began an affiliation with Transport duties, particularly helicopters, that continues to this day. Currently based at Odiham are No 7 Squadron with 11 Chinook HC2s, No 18 Squadron with 10 Chinook HC2s and No 27 Squadron with 9 Chinook HC2s. The last of these incorporates the Operational Conversion Unit for the Chinook.
Scampton in Lincolnshire is home to the Royal Air Force Aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, flying Hawk T1/T1As.
Ferry Command was originally responsible for St Mawgan, and the base was initially used for ferry flights across the Atlantic. In 1951, the Station reopened as a Coastal Command base, and now operates largely as a Search and Rescue base. Nimrods and Tornados regularly detach to St Mawgan to exercise the defence of the South West Approaches. Currently based on the airfield is No 203 (Reserve) Squadron equipped with 3 Sea King HAR3s. All maintenance for the RAF Sea King fleet is carried out at St Mawgan, and the airfield is home to No 3 Maritime Headquarters Unit. Two Field Squadrons are also based here; No 1 Squadron RAF Regiment and No 2625 (County of Cornwall) Squadron, RAuxAF.
Shawbury has been a training airfield throughout its history, from when the first airfield opened there in 1917. Aside from flying training, Shawbury has also been home to the Central Air Traffic Control School since its earliest beginnings back in 1944. All of the flying training at Shawbury is now rotary winged, and was previously undertaken by No 2 Flying Training School. In April 1997, this became the tri-Service Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) operating Squirrel HT1 (660 and 705 Squadrons) and Griffin HT1 (60 (Reserve) Squadron) helicopters. The unit also includes the helicopter element of the Central Flying School which uses the DHFS aircraft.
Valley's position on the Isle of Anglesey made is ideally suited for its dual role of fighter base, protecting Liverpool and the North West, and ferry airfield, operating transport flights across the Atlantic. In 1957, Valley became a training base, and is now one of the most important. The largest unit based at Valley is No 4 Flying Training School, which operates 71 Hawk T1/T1A aircraft, and incorporates the Central Flying School Advanced Training Unit. Some aircraft of No 4 FTS can be seen in the colours of Nos 19 (Reserve) and 208 (Reserve) Squadrons. Valley is also home to "C" Flight of No 22 Squadron equipped with 2 Sea King HAR3s for Search and Rescue duties, and the Search and Rescue Training Unit, which operates 3 Griffin HT1s.
Initially a flying training base of the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, the Station closed in 1920, re-opening in 1926 as a bomber base, a role that continued until 1984 with the withdrawal from service of the last Vulcan aircraft. Waddington now fulfills two main roles in the RAF, that of electronic reconnaissance, carried out by the 3 Nimrod R1s of 51 Squadron, and Airborne Early Warning, provided by the 6 Sentry AEW1s of Nos 8 and 23 Squadrons. Temporarily resident at Waddington is the Tornado F3 Operational Evaluation Unit. Ground and Air Defence of the airfield is provided by No 26 Squadron RAF Regiment with its Rapier FSC Surface-to-Air missiles, and No 2503 (County of Lincoln) RAuxAF Field Squadron. NATO aircraft of many nations use Waddington as a temporary base during exercises in the North Sea air combat range.
Originally called Stamford, the base was used as a training airfield from 1916 as part of the Royal Flying Corps. The Central Flying School was at Wittering until 1935, from which time it became a fighter base, the role it now fulfills. Known as "The Home of the Harrier", Wittering currently hosts just one squadron following the transfer of No1(F) to nearby Cottesmore. This is the Operational Conversion Unit for the Harrier, No 20 (Reserve) Squadron, equipped with 9 Harrier GR7s and 5 Harrier T10s.
Date Last Updated : Monday, April 18, 2005 3:39 PM
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