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Bicester Airfield from above.
|IATA: none – ICAO: EGDD|
|Owner||Bicester Heritage Ltd|
|Operator||Windrushers Gliding Club|
|Elevation AMSL||259 ft / 79 m|
Bicester Aerodrome, formerly RAF Bicester, is an airfield on the outskirts of the English town of Bicester in Oxfordshire. Dating back to 1916, this military airfield is notable as the location of the first flight of the prototype Handley Page Halifax in 1939 and was later the home of No. 71 Maintenance Unit, RAF (Royal Air Force); the RAF finally left in 2004.
The airfield consists of 400 acres (1.6 km2) of well-drained short-mown grass, with three nominal runways (not marked) of 06/24, 13/31, 18/36, each 1,000 m (3,281 ft) long. The airfield surface is bumpy in places, due to collapsing field drains, requiring care on the part of pilots operating aircraft in those areas.
In 1911, flying first took place on the site, when Lt H.R.P Reynolds landed a Bristol Boxkite biplane on the field. Organised flying began in 1916 when a Training Depot was established. In January 1917, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) moved into the site, then 180 acres (0.73 km2), with the arrival of 118 night bomber squadron. Canvas-covered Bessonneau hangars were used until more substantial aircraft sheds were built.
In November 1918, No. 44 Training Station Depot arrived, followed in 1919 by 5 Squadron, flying Bristol Fighters returning from France, having flown in the First World War. All the squadrons disbanded by 1920, and the airfield was closed in 1920 after being used briefly as a clearing centre for repatriated soldiers.
In 1925, work began on redeveloping the site as a bomber station, and flying began again in January 1928. Various large RAF bombers operated from the field, including the Vickers Virginia. Other aircraft included Hawker Horsleys and, in 1935, Hawker Harts arrived. In November 1932, the only RAF squadron of Boulton Paul Sidestrands arrived, replaced by Overstrands in 1936.
Development of the station continued throughout this period, with many new buildings being erected.
World War II
In 1937/1938, two squadrons of the new Bristol Blenheim bomber arrived, followed in 1939 by two more squadrons with Spitfires and Avro Anson support aircraft, forming the No. 1 Camouflage Unit RAF. The aircraft were used for training, with no operational sorties being flown from the field.
Later in 1939, the first Handley Page Halifax was assembled at Bicester, and on 25 October 1939 the type made its maiden flight from the airfield, flying to Boscombe Down. The type went on to become the first four-engined bomber to drop bombs on Germany in World War II.
In July 1940, the second RAF Bomber Command Training Group (No. 7 Group RAF) was formed, with its Headquarters at RAF Bicester. This was required due to a demand in operational training, supplying squadrons of No. 2 Group.
Throughout the war, RAF Bicester was used as a training centre, and in April 1940 became home to No. 13 Operational Training Unit RAF, under the control of RAF Bomber Command. In June 1943, the unit transferred to Fighter Command, flying Spitfires and De Havilland Mosquitos. Although no offensive missions were flown, flights were not without risk. In April 1940, 13 OTU experienced the first losses of the newly formed Bomber Command operational training units. On 6 December 1941, a Blenheim stalled on take-off, killing all three crew members. Just four days later, a second Blenheim crashed in an identical accident, again with no survivors.
- No 1 Camouflage Unit
- Bomber Command Training Group (No.7 Group)
- 13 OTU
- No. 135 Squadron RAF
- No. 308 Squadron RAF
- No. 403 Squadron RAF
- No. 457 Squadron RAF
- No. 605 Squadron RAF
At the end of 1944, Bicester became a non-flying unit, used for maintenance, and later as a Motor Transport depot. In 1953, No. 71 Maintenance Unit arrived, that salvaged, repaired, and then transported damaged aircraft.
In 1956, Windrushers Gliding Club arrived, having moved from Little Rissington, and gliding began at the field. In 1963, the Royal Air Force Gliding & Soaring Association (RAFGSA) began using the site, eventually merging with Windrushers Gliding Club, and gliding has taken place at the airfield continuously since 1956. In 1966, No.1 LAA Squadron RAF Regiment arrived from RAAF Butterworth, Malaysia, along with No.26 LAA Squadron RAF Regiment − from RAF Changi, Singapore.
In 1976, the RAF ceased to use the airfield as a military base, but still maintained staff there to run the gliding training operation as adventurous training for servicemen. These courses were intended to develop teamwork and self-sufficiency among the servicemen by putting them in unfamiliar situations, such as sports that involved a low risk factor. However, in the mid-1980s, the USAF briefly used the Technical and Domestic Area for storage. In 1982 the USAF created a wartime contingency hospital with 500 beds and all ancillary medical services utilizing restored RAF World War II dormitories. There were between 12 and 20 USAF personnel physically stationed on site until the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, when they were augmented by 1200 USAF medical personnel from USAF medical Center, Wilford Hall, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The facility was used to treat primarily minor physical injuries and possible PTSD patients. The unit was deactivated in 1992. Between 1979 and 1992, the RAFGSA Centre allowed US servicemen from RAF Upper Heyford to become members, providing training and aircraft. Many US servicemen, from the US Armed Forces family housing next to the airfield in Bicester, learnt to fly at Bicester as a result.
In 1990, during Operation Desert Shield, the USAF deployed medical personnel to the site, and equipped a number of buildings in both the Technical and Domestic area as a hospital. This was done in anticipation of the large numbers of casualties that were expected, but never materialized, during the 1991 First Persian Gulf War. In 1997 the Ministry of Defence placed the Married Quarter sites at RAF Bicester up for disposal by formal tender. These were acquired by The Welbeck Estate Group. The post war NCO married quarters were renamed 'The Rowans' and the newly built housing for occupation by the United States Air Force were renamed 'Stratton Fields' They were substantially upgraded and sold by Welbeck over the ensuing 3 years.
In March 2013 Bicester Airfield was acquired from the MOD by Bicester Heritage Limited with the aim of developing the UK's first business park dedicated to historic motoring and aviation. Bicester Heritage aim to bring together the UK’s cottage industry of specialists in order to promote not just the preservation but, specifically, the use of vintage aeroplanes and motor cars.
In June 2004, the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association moved to RAF Halton. The main use of the site is now civilian gliding, being home to both a newly reformed (July 2004) Windrushers Gliding Club, who lease the site, and also the Oxford University Gliding Club and Cranfield University Gliding Club, as sub-sections within the Windrushers club.
The airfield is one of the finest examples of an unmodified pre-war RAF station still almost completely in existence, with many listed buildings. The brick-built 1934 "Fort" type 1959/34 control tower survives, as do the two C-type and two A-type aircraft hangars.
In the late 1990s, plans were proposed to develop the airfield for housing and industry, but they were abandoned due to strong local opposition and the historic nature of the site. In 2002, Cherwell District Council designated the aerodrome as a Conservation Area.
Also during the late 1990s The Welbeck Estate Group/Hodge Group acquired 300 post war and modern Officers and NCO married quarters on the Stratton Fields and The Rowans housing estate being service housing for RAF Bicester.
- "Bicester". WW2 Airfields of Oxfordshire. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "Information > Biographies > BRIGADIER GENERAL PETER C. BELLISARIO". United States Air Force. Archived from the original on 23 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
- Barnes, C H (1976) ‘Handley Page Aircraft since 1907’ (Putnam, London).
- The Wartime Memories Project - RAF Bicester
- Windrushers Gliding Club - Bicester Airfield history
- WW2 Airfields of Oxfordshire - Bicester
- RAF Museum - Vickers Virginia
- Controltowers.co.uk - Bicester
- VR York (Halifax bomber information
- Bomber Command Heritage - Vision for vibrant Heritage/Education Centre at the former RAF Bicester aerodrome
- Group Captain Hughie Edwards VC 105 Squadron
- Chiltern Classic Flight - Bicester Airfield History