Jump to content

RAF Bentwaters

Coordinates: 52°07′41″N 001°26′07″E / 52.12806°N 1.43528°E / 52.12806; 1.43528
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

RAF Bentwaters
Rendlesham, Suffolk in England
A Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II assigned to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, which was based at RAF Bentwaters between 1951 and 1993.
A Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II assigned to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, which was based at RAF Bentwaters between 1951 and 1993.
RAF Bentwaters is located in Suffolk
RAF Bentwaters
RAF Bentwaters
Location in Suffolk
Coordinates52°07′41″N 001°26′07″E / 52.12806°N 1.43528°E / 52.12806; 1.43528
TypeRoyal Air Force station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force (1942–1949)
United States Air Force (1951–1993)
Controlled byRAF Bomber Command 1944
RAF Fighter Command 1944-
* No. 11 Group RAF
Site history
Built1941 (1941)/44
In useApril 1944–1993 (1993)
  • Site sold and became a business park and TV/film location known as Bentwaters Parks with airfield infrastructure and buildings remaining.
  • Bentwaters Cold War Museum opened in 2007.
EventsEuropean theatre of World War II
Cold War
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: BWY, ICAO: EGVJ, WMO: 035963
Elevation24 metres (79 ft)[1] AMSL
Direction Length and surface
07/25 2,725 metres (8,940 ft) Concrete
00/00 Wartime  Concrete/Tarmac
00/00 Wartime  Concrete/Tarmac

Royal Air Force Bentwaters or more simply RAF Bentwaters, now known as Bentwaters Parks, is a former Royal Air Force station about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of London and 10 miles (16 km) east-northeast of Ipswich, near Woodbridge, Suffolk in England. Its name was taken from two cottages ('Bentwaters Cottages') that had stood on the site of the main runway during its construction in 1943.

The station was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War, and by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Cold War, being the primary home for the 81st Fighter Wing under various designations from 1951 to 1993. For many years the 81st Fighter Wing also operated RAF Woodbridge, with Bentwaters and Woodbridge airfields being known by the Americans as the "Twin Bases".

RAF Bentwaters was the location of an 13–14 August 1956 nighttime radar and visual sighting of multiple UFOs (the Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident); it is also near the location of the alleged December 1980 UFO incident in Rendlesham Forest.

The site is now known as Bentwaters Parks. The Bentwaters Cold War Museum is located on the site, there are offices and warehouses, and the site is also used for television and film making.[2]


Second World War[edit]

Bentwaters airfield's origin dates to 1942 when construction began on a Royal Air Force station called Royal Air Force Butley for use by RAF Bomber Command. On 28 January 1943 the station was renamed Royal Air Force Bentwaters. It was opened for operational use in April 1944. In December it was transferred to No. 11 Group, RAF Fighter Command . During the Second World War, RAF squadrons at Bentwaters were:

Two other units were also based at Bentwaters, these were No. 226 Operational Conversion Unit RAF and No. 7 Fighter Command Servicing Unit.[10]

In addition to its RAF use, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters flew escort missions for RAF Bomber Command from Bentwaters beginning on 4 May 1945.

The USAAF designation for Bentwaters was AAF Station 151.[10]

The squadrons were:

USAF use[edit]

Control of Bentwaters was transferred to the United States Air Force on 16 March 1951 by the Ministry of Defence, and the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) designated it a primary installation of HQ USAFE on 7 September 1951. Bentwaters was to play a key role in the defence of Western Europe during the Cold War when large numbers of USAF aircraft were assigned as part of the air arm of NATO.

On 16 March 1951, the USAF 7506th Air Support Group was assigned to Bentwaters. Their mission was to bring the facility up to NATO standards. During most of 1951 and 1952 USAF construction upgraded the operational facilities, as well as the construction of support facilities. Early USAF units at Bentwaters were as follows:

81st Tactical Fighter Wing[edit]

North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre, AF Serial No. 48-0276 of the 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

The 81st Fighter-Interceptor Wing became the new host unit at Bentwaters in September 1951. The 81st, in various designations, remained at RAF Bentwaters for over 40 years during the Cold War era. The 81st FIW was a North American F-86A Sabre equipped unit, being activated at Moses Lake AFB, Washington in May 1950. In August 1951 the 81st flew initially into RAF Shepherds Grove, then in September transferred its headquarters to RAF Bentwaters.

In October 1974, the 81st began operating F-4D Phantoms. This would continue through early 1979, when the wing received and began operating the A-10A Thunderbolt II single-seat attack aircraft, affectionately known as the Warthog. The D model Phantoms were transferred to the 401st TFW at Torrejón AB, Spain.

An A-10 Forward Operating Location (FOL) was established at Sembach Air Base, West Germany on 1 September 1978 when Det. 1, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing was activated. Revetments and a dozen hardened aircraft shelters were built and A-10A's began operations at Sembach during May 1979. Additional detachments were subsequently established at Leipheim, Alhorn and Norvenich Air Bases in West Germany and at two additional unmanned reserve FOLs which remain classified; one in the north of Germany and one in the south, both in rear of the other four named bases/airfields. A-10's and support resources routinely rotated to these FOLs from RAF Bentwaters for training and Tactical Evaluations. The C-130 rotating to the detachments was affectionately called "The Klong". In the event of war in the 1980s, the Bentwater A-10's were to fight from Germany, and Bentwaters would host F-16's from Nellis AFB and from Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina.

Post Cold War[edit]

With the end of the Cold War, the USAF presence at Bentwaters was gradually phased down. It was announced that the station would be closed and the 81st TFW would be inactivated. The Bentwaters-based squadrons were phased-down as follows:

The last A-10 aircraft departed Bentwaters on 23 March 1993, and the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing was inactivated on 1 July 1993. With the inactivation, the USAF returned control of Bentwaters to the Ministry of Defence.

Currently, Bentwaters airfield is inactive as a military facility.

Current uses[edit]

With the handover of Bentwaters back to the UK Ministry of Defence in 1993, the facility was closed. It is now known as "Bentwaters Parks".

Bentwaters Cold War Museum[edit]

The ATC tower at the former RAF Bentwaters
War Operation Room

In 2003, work commenced on the Bentwaters Cold War Museum (BCWM).[13]

The museum is based in the former USAF hardened command post on the airfield. The main "war operations room" and "Battle cabin" have been restored to original condition, the BT telephone exchange room, and decontamination showers and airlock are also as original.[14]

Other rooms within the building have been turned into exhibition rooms, covering the history of RAF Bentwaters from WWII until the base closed.

The museum is currently undergoing refurbishment as of May 2022.

Private Tractor Museum[edit]

Bill Kemball, from Suffolk, moved his large collection of tractors and other equipment to a building on the site. As of October 2023, the museum is only available to visit by appointment, but plans are being made to make it more available to visit.[15]

Television and media[edit]

The 2005 reality television series Space Cadets was largely shot at RAF Bentwaters. The base was disguised as a Russian spaceport to maintain the illusion that the contestants were in fact in Russia preparing for their mission in space.[16]

In 2008 an episode of the History Channel's UFO Hunters entitled "Military vs. UFOs", was aired. The episode focused on RAF Bentwaters' 1956 and 1980 UFO incidents.[17]

The 2021 James Nunn action movie One Shot, set on an Eastern European prison island, was filmed at Bentwaters.[18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Falconer 2012, p. 48.
  2. ^ "Bentwaters Parks". Bentwaters Parks. Retrieved 4 August 2009.
  3. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 45.
  4. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 57.
  5. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 58.
  6. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 59.
  7. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 64.
  8. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 75
  9. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 77
  10. ^ a b c d e "Bentwaters (Butley)". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  11. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 43.
  12. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 48.
  13. ^ "Bentwaters Cold War Museum". Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  14. ^ "BCWM – Welcome to the BCWM". Retrieved 21 May 2022.
  15. ^ Liggins, Mike; Gordon-Farleigh, Neve (5 October 2023). "Plans to make Suffolk tractor and vehicle museum more accessible". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 5 October 2023.
  16. ^ "Ipswich, we have a problem: Space Cadets, the reality show that never left the ground". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  17. ^ "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Have Been Compromised by Unidentified Aerial Objects". Reuters. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2013. US Nuclear Weapons Have Been Compromised by Unidentified Aerial Objects
  18. ^ "One Shot (2021)". IMDB. Retrieved 14 April 2024.


  • Falconer, J (2012). RAF Airfields of World War 2. UK: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85780-349-5.
  • Jefford, C.G. RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1988. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History, 1984
  • Endicott, Judy G., USAF Active Flying, Space, and Missile Squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Office of Air Force History
  • Menard, David W., Before Centuries. USAFE Fighters 1948-1959
  • Martin, Patrick, Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings, 1994
  • Rogers, Brian, United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978, 2005
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present
  • Bentwaters Aviation Society History of RAF Bentwaters

External links[edit]