RAF Church Fenton
|RAF Church Fenton|
|Church Fenton, North Yorkshire in England|
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence (MOD)|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|Controlled by||RAF Fighter Command|
|In use||June 1937 – 2013|
|Fate||Sold by the MOD and became Leeds East Airport.|
|Battles/wars||European theatre of World War II|
|Identifiers||ICAO: EGXG, WMO: 03355|
|Elevation||9 metres (30 ft) AMSL|
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
Opened in 1937, 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. 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. Some of the squadrons stationed there also flew the de Havilland Mosquito.
The following squadrons were billeted at Church Fenton at various times:
- No. 25 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 26 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 46 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 64 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 68 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 72 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 73 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 85 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 87 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 96 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 124 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 125 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 183 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 234 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 245 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 249 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 264 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 288 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron, 
- No. 308 Polish Fighter Squadron, 
- No. 409 Squadron RCAF, 
- No. 456 Squadron RAAF, 
- No. 488 Squadron RNZAF, 
- No. 600 Squadron RAF, 
- No. 604 Squadron RAF, 
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 and the Hawker Hunter. 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.
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.
For some years it was home to the Royal Navy Elementary Flying Training School (RNEFTS) using the Scottish Aviation Bulldog, 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:
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.
The following units were here at some point:
- No. 1 Flying Training School RAF
- No. 2 Flying Training School RAF
- No. 3 Mobile Glider Servicing Party
- No. 4 Radio Maintenance Unit
- No. 4 Radio Servicing Section
- No. 6 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit RAF
- No. 7 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit RAF
- No. 9 Air Experience Flight RAF
- No. 13 Fighter Command Servicing Unit
- No. 21 (Air Defence Missile) Wing RAF
- No. 21 (SAM) Servicing Wing RAF
- No. 22 Gliding School RAF
- No. 23 Group RAF
- No. 23 Group Communications Flight RAF
- No. 60 Maintenance Unit RAF
- No. 73 (Signals) Wing Calibration Flight RAF
- No. 141 Airfield
- No. 148 (SAM) Servicing Wing RAF
- No. 2794 Squadron RAF Regiment
- Aircrew Officer Training School RAF
- Central Flying School Primary Flying Squadron RAF
- Joint Elementary Flying Training School RAF
- Leeds University Air Squadron
- Northern Sector RAF
- Primary Flying Squadron RAF
- Refresher Flying Flight RAF
- Yorkshire Sector HQ RAF
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. 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. Allen Rowley, aviation correspondent at the Yorkshire Evening Post, was its principal organiser and commentator until 1989.
Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron and ATC
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.
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." It is believed that Makins Enterprises will target the business jet market, while also running a flying school and other ventures.
Current operational units
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