RAF Brize Norton remains the UK’s hub for military air transport (AT) and air to air refuelling (AAR) and has a critical role in supporting operations in Afghanistan. The Station’s three flying Squadrons all play an important role in the Middle East.
Number 99 Squadron has enjoyed intense tasking to support operations throughout Afghanistan. The life saving nature of the Squadron’s aeromedical evacuation role was recently captured in the ‘Air Hospital’ documentary that featured on television earlier this year.
Number 101 Squadron returned to the Middle East to provide AAR support to coalition aircraft in Afghanistan. The Squadron also continues to make an essential contribution to air defence in the UK and the Falkland Islands. This summer also saw Number 101 Squadron provide an iconic memory when two VC-10 aircraft flew in formation over Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Birthday Flypast.
Number 216 Squadron has continued to maintain the strategically vital ‘air bridge’ between the Middle East area of operations; delivering passenger and freight transport services in the most challenging of environments.
Operations Wing has led the Station’s response to maintaining airfield operations during a severe winter. Just as things had settled down, further demands were placed on operations by the volcanic eruptions in Iceland.
Forward Support Wing has continued to meet the challenges of co-ordinating logistic support for RAF Brize Norton. Given the number of ageing aircraft at the Station and intense flying of the newest aircraft, this has been an increasingly difficult task. The Airport of Embarkation Wing has provided crucial movements support to the timely and effective delivery of the ‘Air Bridge’ to Afghanistan.
Base Support Wing has met the ongoing administrative challenges provided by supporting operations; this has ensured that its personnel have remained highly active. Elsewhere, the Airborne Delivery Wing was conferred with the ‘Freedom of Carterton’ in Sep 2010 to acknowledge its importance to the local community.
The Station is readying itself for the first A330 that should arrive in summer 2011. RAF Lyneham is also due to close in 2012 and this will see the entire Hercules fleet relocate to RAF Brize Norton.
Royal Air Force Brize Norton was constructed between 1935 and 1937 when it was used as a flying school before becoming home to the Heavy Glider Conversion Unit until 1945. The Station was then transfered from Flying Training Command to Transport Command. The USAF accepted command in 1951 to 1965 and the first jet bombers, B47 Stratojets, landed in September 1953. The RAF assumed command in 1965 and there followed a unique history of support to worldwide operations. In April 2000 the Station became part of No 2 Group.
Construction of the airfield at Brize Norton site began in 1935. Although most of the site lay within the parish boundary of Carterton, it was thought there would be confusion with RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire, so the station was named after the next nearest village, Brize Norton. The official opening took place on 13th August 1937, and No 2 Flying Training School, the first unit to be stationed here, arrived before the building programme had been completed. The Station was used for flying training until July 1942, when it became the home of the Heavy Glider Conversion Unit (HGCU), later renamed No 21 HGCU, which remained at RAF Brize Norton until December 1945.
Between March and October 1944 the Station was used as a base for parachute and glider operations by No 296 and 297 Squadrons, both equipped with Albemarles.
On D-Day, these Squadrons were involved in dropping paratroops and launching Horsa gliders for the purpose of capturing bridges, six miles inland from the coast, over the River Orne and Caen Canal. On the same day, two more gliders were placed directly on a coastal battery controlling the estuary of the River Orne, which was in a position to oppose the seaborne landings. All of these operations were completed successfully.
The Squadrons were involved in the airborne landings at Arnhem in September 1944, and were also engaged in dropping personnel and supplies to the resistance movements in Europe. On 31st December 1945, RAF Brize Norton was transferred from Flying Training Command to Transport Command, and became the home of the Transport Command Development Unit and the School of Flight Efficiency. The Army Airborne Transport Development Unit joined these units in May 1946. Flying Training Command returned to the Station with No 204 AFTS in August 1949, but their stay was a short one and they left in June 1950 when the Americans arrived.
The USAF accepted control in April 1951. Until early 1952, the main task of the USAF elements at RAF Brize Norton was to support US Army engineers engaged in extending the runway and building taxiways, hard standings and accommodation. In June 1952, some 21 B36 Convair Peacemaker bombers were the first American aircraft to arrive at RAF Brize Norton. The first jet bombers to land here were B47 Stratojets in September 1953. A rotation of bomber wings and refueling Squadrons continued until April 1958, with the exception of a period of runway reconstruction from October 1955 until September 1956. In April 1958, the Reflex alert concept came into force and, under this arrangement units of Strategic Air Command were detached from the US for a 90-day tour of duty.
Seven USAF bomber wings provided B47 aircraft for Reflex duty at RAF Brize Norton, the last one returning to the US in April 1965.
In April 1965 the RAF took control of Brize Norton and it became a Transport Command airfield. Then, on the renaming of the Command in August 1967, it became an Air Support Command airfield. There followed a steady build up of personnel and facilities to make RAF Brize Norton the Strategic Air Transport (AT) base for the RAF. This included the construction of the Gateway House Hotel and the building of the £2 million Base Hangar, at that time the largest cantilever structure in Western Europe. Two Britannia Squadrons, No 99 and 511, joined the VC10s of No 10 Squadron and the Belfasts of No 53 Squadron in June 1970 to bring the station to full operational strength. Early in 1972, the station became part of No 46 Group, Strike Command and, in October 1975, became part of No 38 Group, Strike Command.
Following the 1974 Defence White Paper, 53, 99 and 511 Squadrons were disbanded. No 10 Squadron remained to provide its worldwide role, and was joined by No 115 Squadron in 1976, operating Argosy aircraft which were used to calibrate service ground radio and radar aids. Andover aircraft replaced the Argosys and, in 1982, No 115 Squadron was moved to RAF Benson. To replace the disbanded Nos 53, 99 and 511 Squadrons, the following major units moved into RAF Brize Norton during 1976: the Joint Air Transport Establishment; No 38 Group Tactical Communications Wing (TCW); No 1 Parachute Training School (PTS) and the RAF Movements School (RAFMS).
In 1982, many TCW and Station personnel were deployed to Ascension Island in support of the Falkland Islands’ conflict. No 10 Squadron was heavily engaged with moving personnel, stores and ammunition to Ascension Island, and the recovery of casualties from Ascension and Montevideo. At the end of the war, No 10 Squadron repatriated hundreds of servicemen back to their families. The Squadron then assumed the re-supply task for the new Falklands Garrison. Also in 1982, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons were formed. No 4624 (County of Oxford) Movements Squadron and No 2624 (County of Oxford) Regiment Squadron recruited locally and were based at RAF Brize Norton. In 1983, the first TriStar arrived, and the following year No 216 Squadron was formed and the first VC1O K was delivered to No 101 Squadron.
The usefulness of a large tanker force was graphically illustrated during RAF Brize Norton’s next major commitment, the Gulf War in 1991. No 101 Squadron deployed to the Gulf area, as did elements of No 216 Squadron. They provided air-to-air refueling (AAR) support for the RAF’s fast jet assets as well as providing support for the US Navy and Marine Corps. No 10 Squadron, along with the balance of No 216 Squadron, provided logistic support into theatre. TCW and many individual station personnel were also deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of the Multi-National Force.
With the demise of the Victor force in 1993, RAF Brize Norton became the centre for all AAR operations in the Royal Air Force. During 1994, No 19 Squadron RAF Regiment, which was based at RAF Brize Norton for the purpose of providing Rapier missile defence for the US Air Force bases at nearby RAF Upper Heyford and RAF Fairford, was disbanded.
Over the years, the Station has maintained its links with the USAF, hosting several large-scale USAF tanker deployments and culminating in a major operational deployment providing support for the Kosovo air campaign. RAF Brize Norton’s assets were widely used, with aircraft from Nos 10, 101 and 216 Squadrons all playing key roles, while the USAF detachment flew 24 KC135 aircraft from the station for the duration of the operation. At the same time, the nearby USAF base of RAF Fairford was launching B52 and B1 sorties. As a result, the airspace was quite crowded on occasion!
On 1st April 2000, the Station became part of No 2 Group. The complement of flying squadrons was increased to four with the formation of No 99 Squadron and the arrival of C-17 aircraft in summer 2001. Following the tragic incidents of 11th September 2001, RAF Brize Norton has played a significant role in the campaign against terrorism. Seven aircraft and 500 personnel deployed to support operations in Afghanistan, and 12 aircraft and 600 personnel deployed in support of Operation Telic in Iraq. For both operations, the station undertook the movement of record numbers of passengers and massive amounts of freight before, during and after fighting operations.