RAF Church Fenton

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RAF Church Fenton
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Church Fenton, North Yorkshire in England
The RAF Church Fenton control tower during 2001.
The RAF Church Fenton control tower during 2001.
RAF Church Fenton is located in North Yorkshire
RAF Church Fenton
RAF Church Fenton
Location in North Yorkshire
Coordinates53°50′04″N 001°11′44″W / 53.83444°N 1.19556°W / 53.83444; -1.19556Coordinates: 53°50′04″N 001°11′44″W / 53.83444°N 1.19556°W / 53.83444; -1.19556
TypeRoyal Air Force station
Area199 hectares[1]
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence (MOD)
OperatorRoyal Air Force
Controlled byRAF Fighter Command
Site history
Built1936 (1936)/37
In useJune 1937 – 2013 (2013)
FateSold by the MOD and became Leeds East Airport.
Battles/warsEuropean theatre of World War II
Airfield information
IdentifiersICAO: EGXG, WMO: 03355
Elevation9 metres (30 ft)[2] AMSL
Direction Length and surface
06/24 1,710 metres (5,610 ft) Asphalt
16/34 1,465 metres (4,806 ft) Asphalt
00/00  Asphalt

Royal Air Force Church Fenton or RAF Church Fenton (ICAO: EGCM) was a former Royal Air Force (RAF) station located 4.3 miles (6.9 km) south east of Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England and 6.3 miles (10.1 km) north west of Selby, North Yorkshire, near the village of Church Fenton. The station was opened in 1937 and during the Second World War was home to air defence aircraft, a role retained by the station until the 1960s when it became a training station. It closed in 2013 and is now a civilian airfield known as Leeds East Airport.



Plans for a new airfield adjacent to the village of Church Fenton were announced in June 1935, it was subject to protest from the local population particularly concerning the waste of valuable farming land and was close to an existing airfield 2 mi (3.2 km) away at Sherburn. Despite the protests construction started in early 1936 on the 260 acres (1.1 km2) site, a mixture of private and West Riding County Council-owned farm land.

On 1 April 1937 the station was declared open and on 19 April the first station commander Wing Commander W.E. Swann assumed command. Within two months No. 71 Squadron RAF had arrived with the Gloster Gladiator.

Second World War[edit]

Opened in 1937,[3] it saw the peak of its activity during the years of the Second World War, when it served within the defence network of fighter bases of the RAF providing protection for the Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Humber estuary industrial regions.

During September 1940 it became home to the first RAF "Eagle squadron" of American volunteers being No. 71 Squadron RAF initially with the Brewster Buffalo I for one month before changing to the Hawker Hurricane I. The airfield was also home to both the first all-Canadian and all-Polish squadrons, with No. 242 Squadron RAF for the Canadians and No. 306 Polish Fighter Squadron for the Polish.[4] 242 Squadron, first established in the First World War and then disbanded, was re-formed here in October 1939, using Canadian personnel.

As technologies evolved, No. 54 Operational Training Unit (54 OTU) was formed at Church Fenton in 1940, the first night fighter OTU, staying until 1942.[5] Some of the squadrons stationed there also flew the de Havilland Mosquito.

The following squadrons were billeted at Church Fenton at various times:


After the war it at first retained its role as a fighter base, being among the first to receive modern jet aircraft, namely the Gloster Meteor[27] and the Hawker Hunter.[27] Between October 1950 and March 1957 it was the base of No. 609 Squadron RAF, within the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and named "West Riding". The unit was equipped with Gloster Meteors.[28]

In later years, its role was mainly flight training. No. 7 Flying Training School RAF was based here between 1962 and 1966 and again between 1979 and 1992, equipped with Hunting Aircraft Jet Provost T3 trainers.[29]

For some years it was home to the Royal Navy Elementary Flying Training School (RNEFTS) using the Scottish Aviation Bulldog,[30] and again 1979–1992, triggered by the introduction of the Panavia Tornado, being the first station to receive the new turboprop-powered Short Tucano T.1 basic fast jet trainers. From 1998 to 2003 Church Fenton was the RAF's main Elementary Flying Training airfield.

The following squadrons were also posted here at some point:


On 25 March 2013 it was announced that Church Fenton would close by the end of 2013. The units would be relocated to RAF Linton-on-Ouse by 31 December 2013.[38]

By 19 December 2013, all units had relocated and the airfield was closed. Some equipment will be relocated to RAF Topcliffe. MoD security continued to secure the site until disposal. A NOTAM was issued suspending the air traffic zone (ATZ) at the end of 2013.[39]

The following units were here at some point:[40]

Air Displays[edit]

For a large part of its history RAF Church Fenton has hosted an annual air display, originally called "Empire Air Day" and later it became the annual “Battle of Britain” display.[41] When the air display in aid of Soldier’s Sailor’s and Airmen’s Families (SSAF) discontinued at Leeds Bradford Airport it moved to RAF Church Fenton where it attracted large crowds, the largest being 63,000 in 1968.[42] Allen Rowley, aviation correspondent at the Yorkshire Evening Post, was its principal organiser and commentator until 1989.[43]

Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron and ATC[edit]

The station was home to Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron and it is from there that they used to conduct their flying training in the Grob Tutor Aircraft. Much of the station is now derelict and fenced off and the Officers Mess has been demolished. The airside section of the station is closed with various hangars incorporating YUAS's aircraft, engineering support, fire/ambulance facilities and a sports hangar. The station used to have a fully functioning and manned Air Traffic Control Tower.

The Station headquarters remains and used to incorporate YUAS's administration, presentation and social facilities. There was a canteen facility known as the "Feeder" and a basic accommodation block. Yorkshire UAS ceased operations at RAF Church Fenton on 19 December 2013, following the closure of the airfield.

Current use[edit]

The airfield is now known as Leeds East Airport and is also home to 2434 (Church Fenton) Squadron Air Training Corps.

The site was sold on 23 December 2014 to Makins Yorkshire Strawberries with the exception of a section containing the Air Cadets. Makins intends to keep the airfield operational.

In February 2015, Makins Enterprises (the new airfield owners) launched their new website, renaming the airfield. It will now be known as 'Leeds East Airport', with the slogan "Yorkshire's newest aviation destination."[44] It is believed that Makins Enterprises will target the business jet market, while also running a flying school and other ventures.

The second series of the ITV drama Victoria was shot at a hangar onsite in 2017.[45]

Current operational units[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Defence Estates Development Plan (DEDP) 2009 – Annex A" (PDF). GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 3 July 2009. p. 2. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  2. ^ Falconer 1998, p. 21.
  3. ^ Halpenny 1982, p. 48.
  4. ^ Halpenny 1982, p. 49.
  5. ^ Halpenny 1982, p. 50.
  6. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 33.
  7. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 40.
  8. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 45.
  9. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 46.
  10. ^ a b c Jefford 1988, p. 47.
  11. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 50.
  12. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 51.
  13. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 53.
  14. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 58.
  15. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 66.
  16. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 75.
  17. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 77.
  18. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 78.
  19. ^ a b c Jefford 1988, p. 80.
  20. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 83.
  21. ^ a b Jefford 1988, p. 85.
  22. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 90.
  23. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 93.
  24. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 94.
  25. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 98.
  26. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 99.
  27. ^ a b Halpenny 1982, p. 51.
  28. ^ Halley 1988, p. 426.
  29. ^ Sturtivant & Hamlin 2007, p. 154
  30. ^ Halpenny 1982, p. 52.
  31. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 30.
  32. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 32.
  33. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 38.
  34. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 56.
  35. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 59.
  36. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 61.
  37. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 79.
  38. ^ "Defence Estate Rationalisation Update" (PDF). Ministry of Defence (MoD). Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  39. ^ Britton, Mick (3 January 2014). "RAF Church Fenton Goes Quietly | Aviation News". www.aviation-news.co.uk. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  40. ^ "Church Fenton". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  41. ^ "Air Displays – RAF Church Fenton". Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  42. ^ "Air Displays – RAF Church Fenton". Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  43. ^ "Allen Rowley – RAF Church Fenton". Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  44. ^ "Leeds East Airport". Archived from the original on 14 February 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  45. ^ Behrens, David (25 August 2017). "Victoria: Pinewood, but more posh – film sets fit for a Queen in Yorkshire". The Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 11 March 2018.


  • Falconer, J (1998). RAF Fighter Airfields of World War 2. UK: Ian Allen Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-2175-9.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1981–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore (1982). Action Stations 4; Military Airfields of Yorkshire. Cambridge: Patrick Stephens. ISBN 0-85059-532-0.
  • Jefford, C G (1988). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Sturtivant, Ray; Hamlin, John (2007). RAF Flying Training And Support Units since 1912. Tonbridge, Kent: Air-Britain. ISBN 0-85130-365-X.

External links[edit]