RAF Henlow

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RAF Henlow
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Henlow, Bedfordshire in England
RAF Henlow badge.jpg
Labor Arma Ministrat
(Latin for Labour supplies the arms)[1]
RAF Henlow is located in Bedfordshire
RAF Henlow
RAF Henlow
Shown within Bedfordshire
Coordinates52°00′56″N 000°18′12″W / 52.01556°N 0.30333°W / 52.01556; -0.30333Coordinates: 52°00′56″N 000°18′12″W / 52.01556°N 0.30333°W / 52.01556; -0.30333
TypeRAF training station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force
Controlled byNo. 22 Group (Training)
Site history
Built1918 (1918)
Built byMcAlpine (1918)
various since
In use1918–Present
Garrison information
Wing Commander Rachael Mawdsley
Airfield information
IdentifiersICAO: EGWE
Elevation51.2 metres (168 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
02/20 1,199 metres (3,934 ft) Grass
13/31 1,157 metres (3,796 ft) Grass
08R/26L 979 metres (3,212 ft) Grass
08L/26R 736 metres (2,415 ft) Grass
Source': RAF Henlow Defence Aerodrome Manual[2]

RAF Henlow is a Royal Air Force station in Bedfordshire, England, equidistant from Bedford, Luton and Stevenage. It houses the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine, the Joint Arms Control Implementation Group (JACIG), the Signals Museum and 616 Volunteer Gliding Squadron. The Ministry of Defence announced on 6 September 2016 that the base is set to be closed following a consultation.[3]


Henlow was chosen as a military aircraft repair depot in 1917 and was built by MacAlpine during 1918.[4] 4 Belfast Hangars were built and are now listed buildings.[5] An additional hangar was added to the inventory in the 1930s and this too is now listed.[6] Originally a repair depot for aircraft from the Western Front, the Station officially opened on 18 May 1918 when Lt Col Robert Francis Stapleton-Cotton arrived with a party of 40 airmen from Farnborough. In May 1920, RAF Henlow became the first parachute testing centre[7] and was later joined by another parachute unit from RAF Northolt. Parachute testing was undertaken with Vimy aircraft and parachutists hanging off the wings and allowing the chute to deploy and enable them to drift back to the ground.[8] The Officers Engineering School moved there in 1924 from Farnborough.[9]

After the First World War, Henlow was home to four aircraft squadrons; No. 19 Squadron RAF, No. 23 Squadron RAF, No. 43 Squadron RAF and No. 80 Squadron RAF.[10] Between 1932 and 1933, Sir Frank Whittle was a student at the RAF technical College on the base.[11] He later spent some time in charge of aero engine testing on the base before being sent to Cambridge.[12]

During the Second World War Henlow was used to assemble the Hawker Hurricanes which had been built at the Hurricane factory operated by Canadian Car and Foundry in Fort William, Ontario, Canada, under the leadership of Elsie MacGill.[13] After test flying in Fort William, they were disassembled and sent to Henlow in shipping containers and reassembled. During Operation Quickforce in 1941, 100 fitters from the base were deployed onto carriers which were shipping Hurricane fighters to Malta.[14] The finished Hurricanes were completed on the decks of the carriers and flown out to Malta.[15] Over 1,000 Hurricanes (about 10% of the total) were built by Canadian Car and Foundry and shipped to Henlow.[16] Henlow was also used as a repair base for many aircraft types under the direction of No. 13 Maintenance Unit.[17]

The empty packing crates that the Hurricane aircraft were shipped in were used to make the original control tower (which has now been replaced by a more modern two-storey Portakabin type).[18] The original tower and parts of the airfield were seen in several scenes in the 1969 war film 'The Battle of Britain'.[19]

After the war, Henlow became the RAF Signals Engineering Establishment, but was reduced to a Radio Engineering Unit in 1980.

A major RAF technical training college was also formed at Henlow in 1947. This was formed from the RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering, formerly at RAF Farnborough, and its purpose was to train cadets and engineering officers.[20] The college was amalgamated with RAF College Cranwell in 1965.[21] The RAF Officer Cadet Training Unit then moved in, but this also moved to Cranwell in 1980. In 1983, the Land Registry took over part of the site.[22] The missile-corporation MBDA has recently test-fired CAMM missiles from a truck at Henlow.

Henlow Camp, a civilian settlement, has grown up around RAF Henlow since the station's establishment.

In December 2011, RAF Henlow along with 14 other Ministry of Defence sites in the United Kingdom were designated as being dangerously radioactive. The 15 bases were believed to be poisoned as a consequence of undetermined activity during the Second World War.[23]


Today, RAF Henlow houses the Joint Arms Control Implementation Group (JACIG), elements of the RAF'S Police Wings, the RAF Centre for Aviation Medicine (RAF CAM),[24] DE&S, 616 Volunteer Gliding Squadron which operates Vigilant T1 motor gliders. The Band of The Queen's Division (British Army) are stationed at RAF Henlow. A civilian flying school also operates from the site. No 3 Tactical Provost Squadron was formerly based at RAF Henlow,[25] gradually transitioned over to Royal Air Force Honington in 2015.

Administratively, RAF Henlow was part of a combined base, RAF Brampton Wyton Henlow but this has been disbanded with RAF Brampton being closed.[26]


Henlow facilities include: Officers' Mess, WOs' & SNCOs' Mess, All Ranks Club - 'Whittles', Coffee Shop - 'Crystals', Welfare housing - 'Whittle's Inn', Gymnasium, bowling alley, an 8 runway grass airfield and a 9-hole golf course open to the public.

Based units[edit]

Notable units based at RAF Henlow.[27][28]

Royal Air Force[edit]

No. 2 Group (Air Combat Support) RAF

  • Royal Air Force Police
    • Counter Intelligence & Exploitation Squadron
    • Defence Flying Complaints Investigation Team (DFCIT)
    • Digital Forensic Flight
    • Professional Standards Department Headquarters
    • Provost Marshal’s Dog Unit (PMDU)
    • Provost Marshal's Dog Inspectorate (PMDI)
    • Service Complaints Investigation Team (SCIT)
    • Specialist and Security Police Wing

No. 38 Group (Air Combat Service Support) RAF

  • RAF Medical Operations


  • Signals Museum

British Army[edit]

Intelligence Corps (1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade)

  • Defence Cultural Specialist Unit

Corps of Army Music

  • The Band of The Queen's Division

Joint Forces Command[edit]

Information Systems and Services

  • Engineering Operations
    • Communication and Information Systems Branch
    • Operations Support Branch

Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S)[edit]

  • Air Defence and Electronic Warfare Systems Delivery Team (ADEWS DT)
  • Supply Chain Information Systems Delivery Team (SCIS DT)
  • A small detachment of Marshall Delivery Team (Marshall DT)

The Signals Museum[edit]

The Signals Museum is focused on the development of electronic communications by the RAF since World War I. Exhibits include radio and electronic equipment and memorabilia, a typical RAF Y Station from World War II, and the training of Aircraft Apprentices and boy entrants for Signals and Communications trades.

The museum is open on Tuesdays and also by appointment. Because of the Museum's location on a working air base, all visitors must present a photo ID for entry.

The Museum is also open on the first Saturday of each month (except in January). Opening times are 10.00 to 16.00 (10 am to 4 pm). No booking is needed on these days, but photo ID has to be presented at the Main Guard Room for Temporary Passes to be issued.[29]

Planned Closure[edit]

On 6 September 2016, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced the planned closure of RAF Henlow along with 12 other military sites owned by the MoD. The land will be used for housing to help meet the government's target of 160,000 homes by 2020.[30]


  1. ^ Pine, L G (1983). A dictionary of mottoes. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. p. 124. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ "RAF Halton Defence Aerodrome Manual (DAM)". RAF Henlow. Military Aviation Authority. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  3. ^ "RAF Henlow". ITV News Anglia. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  4. ^ Bowyer 1983, p. 165.
  5. ^ "Non-inhabited listed buildings on the MOD UK estate: 2015". Gov.uk. Ministry of Defence. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  6. ^ Historic England. "Building 190 (Coupled service shed), RAF Henlow  (Grade II) (1391624)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  7. ^ Robertson, Bruce (1978). The RAF - a pictorial history. London: Robert Hale. p. 48. ISBN 0-7091-6607-9.
  8. ^ Philpott, Ian (2005). "RAF stations, airfields and other establishments". The Royal Air Forces; An Encyclopedia of the Inter-War Years, 1918–1929. Barnsley: Pen and Sword. p. 241. ISBN 1-84415-154-9.
  9. ^ Bowyer 1983, p. 166.
  10. ^ Halley, James J (1985). The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Tonbridge: Air Britain. pp. 41–119. ISBN 0-85130-083-9.
  11. ^ Smith 1999, p. 123.
  12. ^ "Royal Air Force Henlow". Forces Publishing. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  13. ^ Smith 1999, p. 126.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Buildings 186, 187, 188 and 189 (Aircraft Hangars), RAF Henlow (1391623)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  15. ^ Historic England. "BUILDING 370 WITH 330 (OFFICER'S MESS), RAF HENLOW (1391625)". PastScape. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  16. ^ Bowyer 1983, p. 167.
  17. ^ Smith 1999, p. 124.
  18. ^ "Henlow". Control Towers. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  19. ^ "RAF Henlow at 90" (PDF). raf.mod.uk. Royal Air Force. p. 52. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  20. ^ Armitage, Michael (1999). "Into the Jet Age". The Royal Air Force (2 ed.). London: Cassell & Co. p. 185. ISBN 0-304-35312-4.
  21. ^ Pitchfork, Graham (2008). The Royal Air Force day by day. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. p. 389. ISBN 978-0-7509-4309-3.
  22. ^ Smith 1999, p. 128.
  23. ^ Edwards, Rob (20 December 2011). "MoD reveals 15 radioactive UK sites". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  24. ^ "Guy Martin drops in to RAF Henlow before Isle of Man TT". Hertfordshire Mercury. 10 June 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  25. ^ Dent, Stephen (2006). The Royal Air Force Handbook. London: Anova Books. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-85177-952-2.
  26. ^ "RAF Wyton". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  27. ^ "About us". RAF Henlow. Archived from the original on 1 August 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  28. ^ "RAF Henlow – Who's Based Here". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  29. ^ "Signals Museum at RAF Henlow invites public to open day". Bedford Times. 23 August 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  30. ^ "Ministry of Defence to sell 13 sites for 17,000 homes". BBC News. Retrieved 6 September 2016.


  • Bowyer, Michael. Action Stations 6; Military airfields of the Cotswolds and central Midlands. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK: Patrick Stephen Publishing, 1983. ISBN 0-85059-529-0.
  • Smith, Graham (1999). Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Airfields in the Second World War. Newbury: Countryside Books. ISBN 1-85306-585-4.

External links[edit]