Historic Airfields

Historic UK Airfields

April 4, 2019

The following is a list of all Historic UK Airfields that were used during World War 1 and World War 2 in the United Kingdom. All these fields have official listed status. Check also out this Bicester Air Show “Flying Highlights” video (The Pitts Special Stunt Plane)

RAF Bicester Airfield (Oxfordshire). Bicester Airfield is located some 15 miles north of Oxford.  The military airfield dates back to 1916 and this is where, in 1939, the first flight of the Handley Page Halifax prototype took place. Later, Bicester Airfield was the home of RAF maintenance until they left the site in 2004. The airfield was used from 1924 as a station for bomber aircraft and retains bomb stores, airfield defenses, a grass airfield, and perimeter hardstandings and perimeter track added in World War II.

RAF Biggin Hill Airfield (Bromley). This operational airport (now named London Biggin Hill Airport) is located only a few miles east-southeast of Croydon in the London Metropolitan area. It is really Britain’s best-celebrated fighter aircraft station that includes an original 1934 officers’ mess and some domestic and technical buildings of which most are dating back to the early 1930s. This important historic site also includes the nation’s best-preserved married living quarters.

RAF Calshot Airfield (Hampshire). Calshot Airfield, located just a few miles south from Southampton, is one of Britain’s best-preserved and most important airfields for military use. There are several RAF flying boats and marine-supporting aircraft stationed here. Calshot opened in 1913 and became important during World War I for coastal patrols across the English Channel and pilots were trained here to attack German submarines.

RAF Catterick, Richmond (North Yorkshire). Royal Air Force Catterick closed in 1994. It is a former RAF airfield located alongside the A6055 near Catterick Village, North Yorkshire, some 30 miles southwest of Middlesbrough. In 1914, Catterick was established as a British Home Defence Station and is the best-preserved British fighter aircraft station in northern England. You still can find an interesting group of original World War I hangars.

RAF Cosford (Shropshire). Located some 20 minutes northwest of Wolverhampton, the airfield was established in 1938 as aircraft storage, maintenance, and technical training facility. In World War II, this No.2 School of Technical Training educated more than 70,000 aircraft mechanics servicemen. The Cosford school is a listed building that’s still being used for training purposes.

RAF Cranwell (Lincolnshire). Cranwell opened in 1929 and is the Royal Air Force education and training academy. This important RAF education center is located about 16 miles south of the city of Lincoln and is the place where all future RAF officers get their training. Cranwell continues to be a cornerstone of Great Britain’s Royal Air Force.

RAF Debden Airfield (Essex). Located slightly southwest of Cambridge, former RAF station Debden Airfield opened in 1937 as a station for fighter aircraft. Today, the airfield is still known for its largely intact flying field its defensive perimeter.

RAF Duxford Airfield (Cambridgeshire). Duxford airfield, located a little south of Cambridge, opened in 1918 and many of the buildings at the airfield were constructed by German PoWs. In the years 1918-19, Duxford airfield was home to the RAF 8th Squadron and their Bristol Fighters. Until 1923, Duxford was used by the RAF No. 2 Flying Training School. Duxford is famous for being a fighter aircraft station at the Battle of Britain in 1940. It is a well-preserved technical facility. Just take a look at this Imperial War Museum Duxford video:

RAF East Kirkby (Lincolnshire). East Kirkby Airfield was established in 1943 as a Heavy Bomber Station to support RAF Bomber Command until November 1945. From 1954, East Kirkby Airfield was in use for the USAF Dakotas until it closed in 1958. In 1970, the airfield was sold. Today, the airfield is the base of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center.

RAF Elvington (Yorkshire). Elvington Airfield was opened in October 1942 and after a complete reconstruction of the original grass airfield, Elvington included three asphalt/concrete runways. The station was home to the Halifax Bombers that were attacked Germany during the early 1943 and May and June 1944 Battle of the Ruhr. RAF Elvington closed in March 1992. You can also visit the Yorkshire Air Museum, Britain’s largest independent air museum (home to the Allied Air Forces Memorial). For information about the North Weald Airfield Museum, check out this article.

RAF Filton (Gloucestershire). Royal Air Force Filton was a Royal Flying Corps and later an RAF station located some five miles north of Bristol. Initially, Filton Air Base was an aircraft factory and military airfield that was used in both WW I and WW II. Filton Airfield is now closed for public transportation and the site is home to Aerospace Bristol, a museum dedicated to aerospace operated by the Bristol Aero Collection Trust.

RAF Halton (Buckinghamshire). Halton airfield was established in 1917 as a technical training center for the British Royal Flying Corps. Military aviation took place at Halton from 1913 when the 3rd. Royal Flying Corps Squadron started out from here throughout World War I. Many of the training center’s barracks were built by German PoWs.

RAF Henlow (Bedfordshire). Henlow Airfield, located about a half hour’s drive northeast of Luton in Bedfordshire, was opened as a military airbase in May 2018. The original Belfast Hangars and additional hangar built in the 1930s are listed buildings. RAF Henlow was originally a Western Front aircraft repair depot and in 1920, the station became Britain’s first parachute training and testing center. Henlow is a rather large grass airfield that includes four runways and is host to various RAF services and a number of aviation organizations.

RAF Hullavington (Wiltshire). RAF Hullavington opened in 1937 as a Royal Air Force Flying Training Station. It is located just north of Chippenham, some 20 miles east of Bristol. The station was used for a number of training purposes but it was closed in 1992. RAF Hullavington incorporates many architectural quality features associated with the RAF Expansion Period of the 1930s.

RAF Kemble (Gloucestershire). Today better known as Cotswold Airport, RAF Kemble Airbase houses Britain’s best-preserved Aircraft Storage Units built by in the nation in the period 1936-1940. Military flying at Kemble Airfield ceased in 1993 and today, Kemble Airfield, located some 5 miles southwest of Cirencester, is a center of excellence for a wide range of aviation activities and Kemble Airfield was renamed Cotswold Airport to reflect the facility’s new services.

RAF Larkhill Airfield (Wiltshire). Larkhill Airbase, located a few miles north of Salisbury, was actually the first British military airfield, established for the British Army in 1910. Here, the early Britain aviation pioneers survived their firsts. In 1912, Larkhill was the site of the first Royal Flying Corps air trials and quite a few aircraft prototypes were flown from here. Pioneering activities included the first radio signal transmissions between aircraft and the hangars.

RAF Little Staughton (Cambridgeshire). RAF Little Staughton, located about half an hour’s drive northeast of Bedford, is a former RAF station that was used by the United States Air Forces from 1942. In March 1944, Airbase was returned to the RAF that stationed here the de Havilland Mosquito and the Avro Lancaster MK I & III until September 1945. In the 1950s, the Americans extended the airfield’s runway for emergency use of its Jet aircraft to move out again by the end of the 1950s.

RAF Little Walden (Essex). RAF Little Walden is located about an hour’s drive north-northeast of London. This former RAF station opened in 1944 and was used both by the RAF and the U.S. Air Force and here you can find a unique and complete control tower as used at the times of World War II. During the war, Little Walden was primarily used for fighter combat and bomber purposes and military flights from Little Walden ceased in January 1946. After the war has ended, the site was used mainly for military surplus storage until it was closed in 1958. Today, hardly anything reminds of the former wartime airfield.

RAF Ludham (Norfolk). Located at about a half hour’s drive east-northeast of the city of Norwich, Ludham Airbase opened in 1941 and operational flying started in November 1941. Ludham included three tarmacked runways, the longest being some 1400 meters long. In August 1945, Ludham was placed on Care and Maintenance and in April, 1o946, the airfield officially closed.

RAF Manby (Lincolnshire). Manby airfield is located some 70 miles north of the city of Peterborough that opened in August 1938. These were the days of the RAF pre-war expansion and the site was a training center for bomb aimers, air gunners, and armament officers. After WW II had come to an end, Manby Airbase continued to be a permanent RAF station until it was closed in March 1974.

RAF Netheravon (Wiltshire). Netheravon Airfields is located some 15 miles north of Salisbury. Construction started in 1912 and was opened in 1913 as an airbase for the British Royal Flying Corps. Netheravon was used by RAF until 1963 when it became a British Army Air Corps facility until 2012. Netheravon Airfield is claimed to be the world’s longest continuously operational airfield.

RAF Northolt (London Borough of Hillingdon). RAF Northolt, located about 6 miles north of Heathrow Airport, is the oldest RAF base that opened in May 1915. It was originally founded for the Royal British Flying Corps and has the longest continuous use history of all RAF airfields. RAF Northolt played a crucial role at the time of the Battle of Britain when aircraft fighters from several nations defended the City of London. In 2012, before the London Olympic Games, RAF Northolt became a fighter station again and is home to 4 Typhoon fighter aircraft.

Now, how about this video taken from a Jet Provost MK3 flight from RAF North Weald to RAF Cosford in June 2018?

RAF North Weald (Essex). North Weald Airfield was set up in 1916 to help defend London against the German Bomber raids during WW II. In 1919, operational flying here was ceased but in 927, North Weald became an operational RAF station again. The Airfield played an important role during the 1940 Battle of Britain. North Weald ceased being an active RAF airfield in 1964. Today, there are many aviation activities and you can also visit the North Weald Aviation Museum, located near the airfield’s entrance.

RAF Old Sarum Airfield (Wiltshire). Old Sarum Airfield is located a few miles north of Salisbury and is Britain’s best-preserved WW I period airfield. It boasts very complete and listed hangar buildings of those times as well as a listed former Station Headquarters building. In 2007, the airfield became a designated conservation area. Current aviation activities at Old Sarum include a skydiving center, flying training school, and privately owned aircraft. In 2012, an aviation museum opened its doors in Hangar 1.

RAF Polebrook, from where the 351st Bomb Squadron flew many missions to attack strategic enemy targets, is not a listed airfield, but it played a crucial role in the period 1943-1945. Read more here.

RAF Scampton (Lincolnshire). Scampton Airfield is located about six miles north of the town of Lincoln and just over 70 miles north of Peterborough. The site was also used in World War I but under the name of Brattleby airfield that opened in 1916. As part of the RAF late 1930s expansion, the new airfield opened on August 27, 1936, as an RAF bomber station. The site continued to play an important role during the days of the Cold War. In 1996, RAF Scampton was placed on Care & Maintenance and today, activities include the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (Red Arrows) and several Air Control, Reporting, and Meteorological activities.

RAF Spitalgate (Lincolnshire). RAF Spitalgate is located about an hour’s drive south of the city of Lincoln. In 1915, the station opened as the Grantham Royal Flying Corps Station but in 1918 became RAF Station Grantham. It was renamed again into RAF Station Spitalgate in 1942. Throughout World War I, the station was an RAF flying training center and it remained to be so during the years between the wars. The RAF lefty Spitalgate in 1975 and a year later, the site became a British Army base.

RAF Swanton Morley (Norfolk). RAF Swanton Morley is located a few miles northwest of Norwich. Together with West Malling, RAF Swanton Morley has the best-preserved Art Deco-style control tower. The airfield was opened in 1940 and the first combined British/American sortie from Swanton Morley was on June 29, 1942. It was an RAF airbase until 1995 when it was transferred to the army. The airfield’s grass airstrip was the longest in Europe at the days of WW II and only one to have survived in Britain. The first combined British-American bombing raids were launched from here.

RAF Upavon (Wiltshire). RAF Upavon airfield is located some 30 minutes’ drive south of Malborough. It was established in 1912 as the Central Military Flight Training School of the Royal Flying Corp. In 1918, the Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air Force so Upavon Station’s name was now Royal Air Force Station Upavon or RAF Upavon. The grass airfield was home to the military flight training school as well as the RAF headquarters. The station closed in 1993 when it became part of the British Army. RAF Uphaven is also known as the Royal Air Force’s “birthplace”.

RAF Uxbridge (London Borough of Hillingdon). RAF Uxbridge was set up as an armaments training facility at the end of World War I and during the 1920s. the site was a major training center for the RAF. Uxbridge is famous for its 1938 Underground Bunker that houses the Battle of Brittain Operations Room. This room was restored and is now a private museum. As Uxbridge is still a full-operational base, visitors need to make arrangement well in advance. In 1958, the Operations Room was closed and locked until the mid-1970s after which it got restored to its authentic state, though only minor restoration work was required.