RAF Abingdon: A Brief History
RAF Abingdon, situated in the heart of Oxfordshire just 5 miles away from Oxford and 1 mile west of Abingdon town, opened under the command of Wing Commander Roberts on 1st September 1932. The Station strength was 4 Officers, 1 Warrant Officer, 8 NCO’s & 42 Airmen. The first aircraft to establish were Fairey Gordons of 40squadron on 8th & 9th September 1932.
RAF Abingdon was the take-off point for the first solo East to West crossing of the Atlantic by a woman – Beryl Markham flying a Vega Gull in September 1936. The station’s first role was as a training station for Bomber Command with 10 Operational Training Unit (OTU) operating a mix of types but predominently the Whiteley bombers. To ease the pressure, the OTU was split into 3 flights, with A & B flight at Abingdon, C flight stationed at nearby Stanton Harcourt, Abingdons satelitte airfield and this role continued right through WWII.
Post-war the station became part of Transport Command from 1946 initially with DC3 Dakotas but latterely the Avro York (a descendant from the famous Avro Lancaster but bulkier and a transporter) which became involved in the 1948 Berlin Airlift. During the 1950s the Hastings and later Beverleys (the largest transport aircraft in RAF service at that time) of 24 and 47 Squadrons were a common sight in local skies until the late 1960s, as were the newly formed 46 squadron Andovers from 1966.
A magnificent gathering of RAF air power came to Abingdon – the occasion being the 50th anniversary of the formation of the RAF. Queen Elizabeth II visited to review the assembled aircraft and numerous flypasts and displays were carried out.
1974 proved a turning point in a change of the stations role once again, becoming a Support Command facility incorporating 60 & 71 Maintenance Unit (MU) with 1976 seeing it become responsible for both in depth maintenance programs onsite aswell as complex aircraft repairs around the UK. The Engineering Wing comprised No 1, 2 & 3 Air Maintenance squadrons (AMS), Repair & Salvage squadron (RSS) & an Engineering Support squadron (ESS). Buccaneer, Hawk, VC10, Hunter and Jaguar were all serviced at Abingdon through its time as a Maintenance Depot, until 1992.
Many young pilots got their first taste of flying here, either in the Chipmunks of No.6 Air Experience Flight or later on the Bulldogs of the London or Oxford University Air Squadrons from the mid 1970s to 1992. Many locals may remember the stored VC10s on the airfield, some of which were converted into Aerial Refuelling Tankers, or the stored Nimrod Airborne Early Warning aircraft that ended up being scrapped during the 1980s – 1992.
The United States Air Force chose Abingdon as one of a small number of UK airfields to be co-located Operating Bases (COBS). A ‘COB’ had bare minimum facilities to house a detachment of US Air Force aircraft and were paid for by the US Air Force or NATO. 1984, 1986 & 1989 saw C130 Hercules transports from either the Californian, Minnesota and Ohio Air National Guard units deploy to the station for exercise.
Under the ‘Options for change’ defence review, RAF Abingdon closed officially on 31st July 1992 under the command of Group Captain Henderson, after which Squadron Leader Mike Lawrance (who was the Abingdon Jaguar and Hawk Unit test pilot) filled in for the last 6 months in a caretaker role.
RAF Abingdon Units
A selection of the many distinguished Squadrons and Units that served at Abingdon throughout its years of active life include:
- 15 Squadron – Hawker Hinds
- 10 OTU (Operational Training Unit) – Avro Ansons, Armstrong Whitleys
- 1 BAT Flight (Blind Approach Training Flight) – Armstrong Whitleys and Airspeed Oxford
- 91 Group Comms Flight – Tiger Moths, Percival Proctor
- 51, 59 & 242 Squadrons – Avro York
- 24, 47 & 53 Squadrons – Handley Page Hastings
- 47 Squadron – Blackburn Beverley
- 1 Parachute Training School
- Air Movements Development School
- No.1 Overseas Ferry Unit
- 46 Squadron – Hawker Siddeley Andover
- JATE (Joint Air Transport Establishment)
- UKMAMS (UK Mobile Air Movement Squadron)
- 6 AEF (Air Experience Flight) – de Havilland Canada Chipmunks
- ULAS and OUAS (London and Oxford University Air Squadrons) – Scottish Aviation Bulldogs
- 1, 2 and 3 AMS (Air Maintenance Squadrons) – maintained SEPECAT Jaguar, Hawker Hunter, BAe Hawk, Vickers VC-10, Blackburn Buccaneer
- AS&TF (Aircraft Salvage and Transport Flight)
- RSS (Repair and Salvage Squadron)
- DTG – Directorate of Ground (Training)
Abingdon will be remembered for many reasons, not least for its very popular annual Air Days which attracted between 30,000 – 50,000 visitors each year. The special 1990 Air Day incorporating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain flypast direct from overflying Buckingham Palace,attracted over 80,000 visitors, with many also not getting onto the airfield and abandoning their cars outside the perimeter as the car parks reached full capacity!
Today, the airfield is used for training purposes by RAF Pumas and Chinooks from nearby RAF Benson, the Army Air Corps make use of it with Apaches, Dauphins and Lynx, as do the occasional Royal Navy Commando Merlin (once a regular sight at Abingdon when in RAF service at Benson), it is a designated Tactical Landing Zone for RAF Brize Norton types aswell as other odd types, so limited military flying continues at this non operational airfield. It is also used for various non military events through the year. The long standing based RAF 612 Volunteer Gliding Squadron unfortunetly is due to disband on 14th August 2016 as part of the drastic cut backs to existing Gliding Squadrons throughout the UK – 612 being one of the most productive units in the UK aswell as winning the Queens award, thus ending a permanent RAF link to Abingdon.
The station (technical site, not the airfield) is known as Dalton Barracks – named after a famous soldier, James Dalton VC (Victoria Cross medal) who held the equivelant rank of quartermaster and fought in the Battle of Rorkes Drift during the 1879 Zulu Wars. It houses 3 Close Support, 4 General Support and 12 Close Support Regiments of the Royal Logistic Corp. Also, recently accomodated is Edwards Brooks Barracks, a brand new facility housing the 7th Battalion the Rifles of the Territorial Army are stationed just outside the Dalton Barracks perimeter. The name Edward Brooks is of a distinguished World War One soldier from Oxfordshire being awarded a VC (Victoria Cross medal) for his bravery. D Company of 202 Field Squadron and Thames Valley Wing Air Training Corp HQ are here too.