RAF Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire

Towards the end of World War 1, RAF Upper Heyford was established by the Royal Flying Corps. During World War 2 it served a number of units, and was predominantly involved in the training of bomber crews in the 16th OTU (operational training unit), flying Handley Page Hampden bombers. Number 18 squadron, equipped with Bristol Blenheim Bombers, was also based at Upper Heyford at the start of the war. After World War 2, the base was the home of the No. 1 Parachute Training School.

During the Cold War, the base was leased to the United States and taken over by the US Air Force and initially served as a base for the United States Air Force Strategic Air Force Command. Three other airfields that were surplus after World War 2 were also leased to the Americans, these being Brize Norton, Fairford and Greenham Common. On the 26th of June, 1950, 801st Aviation Engineering Battalion moved to the site and extended the runway from 6000ft to 8300ft, and constructed hard stands capable of holding the Strategic Air Commands B-36 & B-50 bombers. On the 15th of May 1951, the base was formally handed over to the USAF 3rd Air Force and 328th Bombardment Squadron moved to the base. The first Aircraft to arrive at the airfield were 15 B-50s, and six months later, the full complement of 45 aircraft arrived at the base, and in 1954, the B-36 Peacemakers started to arrive.

In the 1960s, the arrival of B-52 bombers started, and became a regular occurrence throughout the 60’s. In the summer of 1962, the Soviets escalated their testing of nuclear weapons behind the Iron Curtain and this saw a detachment of U-2 spy planes operating from the base. Their mission was to take air samples from the upper atmosphere to try and determine the characteristics of the new weapons. In 1964, the base was re-designated the 3918th strategic wing. Later that year, the SAC (Strategic Air Command) bomber aircraft in the UK were stood down, and the bases at Greenham Common, Brize Norton and Fairford were put on care and maintenance and were in a state of deployment without equipment, ready to be reactivated in a short period of time.

With France pulling out of NATO in 1966, and American units being ordered to leave the country, Upper Heyford was now to serve as a base for the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. The Unit moved in during September of that year, and brought with them the RF-101 aircraft. In 1968, the RF-101 were replaced with the new RF-4C Phantoms. However, these planes were moved from the base 2 years later. That same year the 20th Fighter Tactical Wing were moved to the base, because of the stand down of RAF Wethersfield. With the move of the 20th fighter Tactical Wing, new aircraft arrived at the base. These were the F-111 Aardvark tactical strike aircraft.

During the operation of RAF Upper Heyford, the base was involved in two major sorties. The first was Operation El Dorado Canyon, which was a strike on Libya, where 20 F-111’s and 5 EF- 111 were launched from the base. The second was during Operation Desert Storm, where 1,798 combat sorties were flown, and 4,714 tonnes of ordnance dropped on various targets throughout Iraq. Upper Heyford saw zero losses during these operations. After the Cold War, and the Gulf War, RAF Upper Heyford was deemed surplus to requirements and gradually phased out. The last plane left on the 7th of December, 1993. On the 30th of September, 1994, the base was returned to the Ministry of Defence. The base now stands derelict, with various activities happening on site, and English Heritage have listed the site as a conservation area as it is the best preserved Cold War airbase in England.

During the 1980’s when the Cold War was at its height, the base was home to a Nuclear Peace Camp, similar to the one at Greenham Common. The camp was protesting the fact that there were planes on fast responses armed with Nuclear Weapons. One of the largest demonstrations happened in 1983, and over 700 people were arrested as a result.

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Modified: 14th Jul 2016