RAF Upavon

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RAF Upavon
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Near Upavon, Wiltshire in England
The airfield at former RAF Upavon during 2007.
The airfield at former RAF Upavon during 2007.
RAF Upavon is located in Wiltshire
RAF Upavon
RAF Upavon
Location in Wiltshire
Coordinates51°17′26″N 001°46′42″W / 51.29056°N 1.77833°W / 51.29056; -1.77833Coordinates: 51°17′26″N 001°46′42″W / 51.29056°N 1.77833°W / 51.29056; -1.77833
TypeRoyal Air Force station
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Flying Corps (1914–1918)
Royal Air Force (1918–1993)
Site history
Built1912 (1912)
In use1912–1993 (1993)
FateTransferred to the British Army and became Trenchard Lines.
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: UPV, ICAO: EGDJ, WMO: 03744
Elevation175 metres (574 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
05/23  Grass
08/26  Grass
18/36  Grass

Royal Air Force Upavon or RAF Upavon is a former RAF station in Wiltshire, England. It was a grass airfield, military flight training school, and administrative headquarters of the Royal Air Force. The station opened in 1912 and closed in 1993, when it was transferred to the British Army and became known as Trenchard Lines.

The station motto was In Principio Et Semper, and translated from Latin means "In the Beginning and Always".[1]


Origins and construction[edit]

Central Flying School staff taken at Upavon, January 1913

Construction began on 19 June 1912, on some training gallops, on an elevated site about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) east of Upavon village, near the edge of the Salisbury Plain, in the English county of Wiltshire.[2] Upavon Airfield was originally created for pilots of the military and naval wings of the newly formed Royal Flying Corps (RFC), and became home to the Army Central Flying School. Captain Godfrey M Paine, RN, became the first commandant, with Major Hugh Trenchard being his assistant. Trenchard later became the chief of air staff, and subsequently became known as the "father of the Royal Air Force".[2]

Trenchard in the uniform of the Royal Flying Corps

Early flying developments[edit]

During 1913 the first night landing made in England was achieved at Upavon, by Lieutenant Cholmondeley.[3] In May 1914, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was a passenger on a flight by a Farman MF.7 biplane while visiting Upavon.[4] Two officers of the CFS at Upavon developed the bomb sight between 1914–1915, and this was used in a very successful manner at the Western Front.[5] The first Unmanned Aerial Target aircraft were tested on the site on 21 March 1917, witnessed by 30–40 allied generals.[6] The officers' mess, a Grade II* listed building, was completed in 1915.[7]

Birth of the Royal Air Force[edit]

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service to create the Royal Air Force, and Upavon became Royal Air Force Station Upavon, commonly abbreviated to RAF Upavon. Accordingly, the former RFC Central Flying School became the Central Flying School.[8]

During 1926 the Central Flying School moved from Upavon.[9] At the same time, No.17 (Fighter) Squadron RAF moved to Upavon[10] to join No.3 (Fighter) Squadron RAF, who had been at Upavon since 1924.[11] For the next eight years, the two fighter squadrons developed both night flying and aviation fighting techniques. At the same time, they wooed the public all over the country with impressive air displays. In May 1934, both squadrons left Upavon for RAF Kenley, London, and were replaced at Upavon, for a short time in 1935, by four squadrons from the Fleet Air Arm.[7]

The St. Raphael[edit]

On 31 August 1927 Lieutenant Colonel Frederick F. Minchin, known to his colleagues as 'Dan', Captain Leslie Hamilton, and Princess Löwenstein-Wertheim took off from Upavon airfield in a Dutch Fokker F.VIIA named the St. Raphael in a bid to become the first aviators to cross the Atlantic from east to west. The St. Raphael was last sighted some 800 mi (1,300 km) west of Galway heading for Newfoundland. The aircraft was never seen again and the fate of Minchin, Hamilton and Löwenstein-Wertheim remains a mystery.[12]

Second World War[edit]

During August 1935, the Central Flying School was to return to Upavon and stayed there until it moved to RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire in April 1942.[13] During this crucial period, the school's primary role was to train and supply flight instructors to the now increasing number of military flying schools.[14] King George VI visited Upavon during the Second World War.[15]


Upavon became home to headquarters No. 38 Group in 1946 and home to headquarters RAF Transport Command in 1951.[16] A new headquarters building for Transport Command was completed in the 1960s. On 16 June 1962, Upavon held a static and flying display, attended by Prince Philip, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Royal Flying Corps.[17] Transport Command was renamed Air Support Command on 1 August 1967.[18]

With the contraction of the RAF, Air Support Command only lasted a short time as a command, and it was absorbed into Strike Command on 1 September 1972.[19] The grass runway was not wholly appropriate for heavy fixed-wing aircraft, nor any kind of jet aircraft, and so the airfield was used as an administrative base and also became the home of No. 622 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, part of the Air Training Corps, who used static winch-launched gliders.[20]

Post-RAF use[edit]

As a result of major reorganisation of the Royal Air Force in the early 1990s, RAF Upavon became surplus to requirements, and the RAF was to permanently withdraw from Upavon. On 3 August 1993, the RAF handed over the site to the British Army[21] and the airfield became a British Army garrison called Trenchard Lines. When the army first moved into Upavon, it became home to Headquarters Doctrine & Training. On 30 January 1995, it then became Headquarters Adjutant General.[22]

In April 2008[23] HQ Adjutant General was absorbed within the newly formed HQ Land Forces under 'Project Hyperion'.[24] The new merged HQ LF was to be at Andover to use surplus real estate made available by Defence Equipment and Support. The two organisations merged organisationally on 1 April 2008, but preparing the Marlborough Lines buildings at Andover for physical co-location was not expected to be possible before 2010.[25] The site is now home to the headquarters of Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command.[26]

Station commanders[edit]

Royal Flying Corps[edit]

1912–1915 Captain G M Paine CB MVO RN
1915–1916 Lieutenant Colonel D Le G Pitcher
1916 Lieutenant Colonel C J Burke DSO
1916–1917 Captain A C H MacLean
1917–1918 Lieutenant Colonel A J L Scott MC

Royal Air Force[edit]

1918 Major J C Slessor
1918–1919 Captain H Maintjes MC
1919 Lieutenant Colonel P H L Playfair MC
1919–1920 Wing Commander C D Breese AFC
1920 Wing Commander P K Wise CMG DSO
1920–1922 Wing Commander N D K MacEwen CMG DSO
1922–1923 Air Commodore E A D Masterman CMG CBE AFC
1923–1925 Group Captain F V Holt CMG DSO
1926–1926 Group Captain W R Freeman DSO MC
1926–1928 Wing Commander V S Brown
1928–1930 Wing Commander W R Read MC DFC AFC
1930–1932 Wing Commander E W Norton DSC
1932–1934 Wing Commander G S M Insall VC MC
1934–1935 Wing Commander A D Pryor
1935–1936 Group Captain H G Smart CBE DFC AFC
1936–1939 Group Captain J M Robb DSO DFC
1939–1940 Wing Commander D W F Bonham-Carter
1940 Wing Commander G H Stainforth AFC
1940 Air Commodore J M Robb DSO DFC
1940–1942 Group Captain H H Down AFC
1942–1944 Group Captain A J Holmes AFC
1944–1946 Group Captain E A C Britton DFC
1946 Squadron Leader Parker
1948 Squadron Leader W McGregor
1948 Squadron Leader S J Rawlins
1950–1951 Squadron Leader M P Thompson
1952–1954 Squadron Leader D T Lees MC
1954–1956 Squadron Leader L J Hill
1956–1958 Squadron Leader K H Steel OBE
1958–1959 Squadron Leader C G Lewis
1959–1961 Squadron Leader R P James MBE
1961–1964 Squadron Leader R R McGowan AFC
1964–1966 Squadron Leader T A Warren
1966–1969 Squadron Leader N Comber
1969–1971 Squadron Leader M Gill
1971–1973 Squadron Leader H C Burrows
1973 Group Captain R S Bradley
1973–1974 Wing Commander J R Shepherd
1974–1975 Wing Commander W G Wood
1975–1977 Squadron Leader J E Dixon
1977–1979 Squadron Leader A R J Pascall
1979–1980 Squadron Leader R A Betterldge
1980–1983 Squadron Leader M Pritchard
1983–1986 Squadron Leader K W Baldock
1986–1989 Squadron Leader D N Barnes
1989–1991 Squadron Leader C F Shaw
1991–1993 Squadron Leader R I Clifford MIMgt


A French Farman MF.7 biplane of No.2 Sqn Royal Flying Corps
Captured Fokker E.III 210/16 being flown at Upavon, Wiltshire in 1916


Units based at RAF Upavon included:[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 110. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ a b "Upavon Village Design Statement" (PDF). Wiltshire Council. 2006. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 June 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2009.
  3. ^ Fischer, William Edward Junior (1998). The Development of Military Night Aviation to 1919 (PDF). Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base. p. 18.
  4. ^ "The morning of 29 May 1914". This Day in Churchill History. 29 May 2017. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  5. ^ Bradley, John Kirkham (1994). "The History and Development of Aircraft Instruments - 1909 to 1919" (PDF). Imperial College, London. p. 165.
  6. ^ Mills, Steve (2019). The Dawn of the Drone. Casemate Publishers. p. 212.
  7. ^ a b Historic England. "Upavon Camp (Officers' Mess), Building 21 (1365554)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  8. ^ Lake 1999, p. 44.
  9. ^ "CFS History 1". www.centralflyingschool.org.uk. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  10. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 29.
  11. ^ Jefford 1988, p. 24.
  12. ^ "The Atlantic Flights". Flight. XIX (976): 634. 8 September 1927. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Parishes: Upavon | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  14. ^ "Second World War flying training - Taking Flight". RAF Museum. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  15. ^ "George VI at Upavon". BBC. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Wiltshire Community History". Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  17. ^ "50th Anniversary of RFC". Imperial War Museum. 16 June 1962. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  18. ^ British Military Aviation in 1967 Archived 10 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine RAF Museum
  19. ^ British Military Aviation in 1972 Archived 5 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine RAF Museum
  20. ^ "Air Cadet Aviation Relaunch:Written statement". Hansard. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  21. ^ Historic England. "UPAVON AIRFIELD (1430889)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Military Schools". Hansard. 30 March 1995. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  23. ^ "HQ Land Forces on the move ..." (PDF). www.drumbeat.org.uk. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 March 2012.
  24. ^ Commonwealth soldiers currently serving in the British Army (letter from HQ Land Forces Secretariat, Trenchard Lines), 11 March 2010; 'Craftsmen of the Army'.
  25. ^ RHQ Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (2017). Craftsmen of the Army: The Story of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 1993-2015. Pen & Sword.
  26. ^ "Freedom of Information Response" (PDF). 19 February 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  27. ^ "Upavon". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 24 September 2021.


  • Lake, A. (1999). Flying units of the RAF. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife. ISBN 1-84037-086-6.
  • Jefford, C.G. (1988). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.

External links[edit]