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RAF Brize Norton
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Transire Confidenter
Transire Confidenter
Airport type Royal Air Force station
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Location Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
Built 1935 (1935)
In use 1937 - present
Commander Group Captain Stephen F. Lushington ADC MA RAF [1]
Elevation AMSL 289 ft / 88 m
Coordinates 51°45′00″N 001°35′01″W / 51.75°N 1.58361°W / 51.75; -1.58361

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Direction Length Surface
ft m
08/26 10,007 3,050 Asphalt

Royal Air Force station Brize Norton or RAF Brize Norton (IATA: BZZ, ICAO: EGVN) in Oxfordshire, about 65 mi (105 km) west north-west of London, is the largest station of the Royal Air Force.[2] It is close to the settlements of Brize Norton, Carterton and Witney.

The station is home to Air Transport, Air-to-Air refuelling and Military Parachuting, with aircraft operating from the station including the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Lockheed TriStar.

Major infrastructure redevelopment began in 2010 ahead of the closure of RAF Lyneham in 2012, at which point Brize Norton became the sole air point of embarkation for British troops.[3]

By the end of June 2011 all flying units from RAF Lyneham had moved to RAF Brize Norton.


An Armstrong Whitworth Whitley glider tug coming in to land at RAF Brize Norton, October 1943

Royal Air Force

RAF Brize Norton was opened in 1937[4] as a training base and one of the first squadrons to use the airfield was No. 110 Squadron RAF which was mainly based at RAF Wattisham but a detachment used Brize Norton from June 1939 until 17 March 1942 with the Bristol Blenheim Mks I and IV before leaving for the far-east.[5] 296 Squadron and 297 Squadron both moved in on 14 March 1944 with their Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles before 296 squadron added the Handley Page Halifax V to their inventory and moved to RAF Earls Colne on 29 September 1944 and 297 squadron moving to the same place a day later. 297 Sqn returned after the Second World War had ended, on 5 September 1946 with the Halifax Mks A.7 and A.9 from RAF Tarrant Rushton before leaving during the summer of 1947 on 21 August moving to RAF Fairford.[6]

United States Air Force

By the 1950s Cold War tension was escalating and the United States envisaged stationing nuclear bombers in the United Kingdom as a deterrent to Soviet aggression.

By 1950 the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) was based at RAF Lakenheath, RAF Marham, and RAF Sculthorpe. The increasing tension of the Cold War led to a re-evaluation of these deployments and by 1953 SAC bombers began to move further west, behind RAF fighter forces, to Brize Norton, RAF Greenham Common, RAF Upper Heyford, and RAF Fairford. As with the other stations it occupied, SAC invested heavily in extending the runway (6,000 to 9,000 ft (1,829 to 2,743 m)), taxiways and dispersals, as well as constructing accommodation and weapons handling facilities. This work was completed in April 1951. The base was assigned to the 7th Air Division and operated by the 3920th Air Base Group (renamed as the: 3920th Combat Support Group; and the 3920th Strategic Wing in 1964. The 3920th ceased operations in 1965.

The first major USAF deployment was that of 21 Convair B-36 Peacemaker stategic bombers in June 1952. Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the KB-29 tanker variant were based at Brize Norton on temporary duty from December 1952 to April 1953.

In September 1953, Boeing B-47E Stratojet six-engined bombers deployed to Brize Norton accompanied by boom-equipped Boeing KC-97G Stratotankers and were based there until 1955, when repair work began on the runways. B-47 Stratojets returned in July 1957. Later deployments included KC-97 and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and the first Convair B-58 Hustler and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers to land in the United Kingdom.

Back to Royal Air Force control

RAF, RAAF and USAF C-17s and flight crews at RAF Brize Norton in June 2007

In 1965 the RAF returned to Brize Norton and both 10 Squadron[7] and 53 Squadron moved from RAF Fairford in May 1967.[8]

10 Squadron reformed in 1966 with the Vickers VC10 C.1,[7] a RAF version which was a standard VC10 with the Super VC10 wings, tailplane and engine as well as a strengthened floor. 14 were produced which were later modified with underwing AAR refuelling pods to refuel two aircraft at once. The C.1 type was changed to C.1(K) to reflect this new tanking capability. On 14 October 2005, 10 Squadron was disbanded, the aircrew and aircraft were merged with 101 Squadron.[citation needed]

In 1970 two squadrons 99 Squadron[9] and 511 Squadron operating the Bristol Britannia moved from RAF Lyneham. Both squadrons were disbanded in 1976,[10] along with 53 Squadron, operating the Short Belfast C1 heavy lift turboprop freighter.[8] In the same year, 115 Squadron moved from RAF Cottesmore operating the Hawker Siddeley Andover in the radar calibration role. The squadron moved to RAF Benson in 1983.[11]

A Vickers VC10 of No. 101 Squadron

101 Squadron reformed at Brize Norton on 1 May 1984,[12] it previously operated the Avro Vulcan and participated in the Operation Black Buck missions of the Falklands War. 101 Sqn flew converted civil VC10s, heavily modified and updated by British Aerospace for military service between 1983 and 1993. Of the 39 airline aircraft acquired by the RAF, 13 were converted, while the remainders were used for spare parts. These converted VC10s were all 3-point tankers; capable of refuelling one aircraft (typically another large aircraft) using the main hose or two smaller aircraft using the underwing pods. The variants were known as K.2, K.3 and K.4.[citation needed]

Following the Falklands War, the RAF found itself lacking in the strategic transport capabilities required to sustain the expanded military presence there. As a result 216 Squadron was reformed at Brize Norton in November 1984,[13] initially flying six ex-British Airways TriStars, followed by three more from Pan-Am.[citation needed]

On 23 May 2001 the RAF's first C-17 arrived at Brize Norton, one of six to be delivered to 99 Squadron.[citation needed]

On 19 September 2005, Brize Norton was closed as part of a major upgrade project. The 10,007-foot (3,050 m) runway was completely resurfaced and new ground lighting and equipment installed to meet Category II operation standards; the first RAF airfield to receive this designation. Rotary Hydraulic Arrestor Gear (RHAG) was also installed to allow Brize Norton to become the Military Emergency Diversion Airfield (MEDA) for the southern UK, as part of the plans to close the current one at RAF Lyneham.[citation needed]

With the closure of RAF Lyneham taking place in late 2011, the repatriation of British personnel was relocated to Brize Norton on 8 September 2011. To accommodate the repatriation services, a purpose-built centre has been constructed,[14] and an exit gate has been refurbished, formally named the Britannia Gate.[15]

Programme Future Brize redevelopment

Lockheed TriStar at RAF Brize Norton, operating an air bridge flight to RAF Ascension Island

Brize Norton is already a major airbase for the RAF's transport fleet. However, the end of flying from RAF Lyneham in September 2011 will signal Brize Norton becoming the sole "Air Point of Embarkation", the main operating base for RAF air transport and in-air refuelling aircraft, and home to 15% of RAF uniformed manpower.[16] All the RAF's fixed wing transport assets will then be consolidated at Brize Norton, with the transfer of the entire Hercules force, together with the entry into service of the Airbus A400M and the Voyager.[17]

To accommodate this expansion (with the number of aircraft stationed at Brize Norton increasing from 28 to 67),[18] a major infrastructure redevelopment, "Programme Future Brize" was established in 2009. The project involves the overhaul of virtually every element of the airfield's infrastructure, including IT, engineering, housing and personnel.[19]

By March 2011, 70 buildings had been refurbished on the station.[20] As part of work to prepare for the introduction of Voyager aircraft into active service, a new hangar and office complex was opened in the same month.[21]

The Hercules fleet at RAF Lyneham officially moved to Brize Norton on 1 July 2011. The final four aircraft flew to the station, conducting a flypast over Wiltshire. Group Captain John Gladstone, Station Commander of RAF Lyneham, flew the lead Hercules, which carried the standards of the Hercules squadrons. These were presented to the Station Commander of RAF Brize Norton, Group Captain Dom Stamp in a welcoming ceremony.[22]


Like many UK military bases (e.g. RAF Fairford, Faslane Naval Base, RAF Lakenheath, and Menwith Hill) RAF Brize Norton has been subject to limited protests by peace demonstrators.

During the 2003 Iraq War four anti-war protesters managed to access the main runway in an attempt to prevent aircraft taking off.[23]

A peace camp was held at the base from 21 to 25 April 2005, along with a demonstration in nearby Carterton.[24]

On 12 August 2006, campaigners restricted access at the main entrance for several hours in a protest against British policy in the Middle East.[25]


The station is home to the Administrative wing, Airport of Embarkation Wing, Depth Support Wing, Forward Support Wing and Operations Wing. Lodger units are the RAF Police, Joint Air Delivery Test and Evaluation Unit (JADTEU) - A tri-service unit that tests and evaluates air transportation methods, and No.1 Parachute Training School RAF.

RAF Brize Norton Flying Club resides at the base providing low cost flying for MOD personnel and training to PPL level and above. Initially operating two Cherokee aircraft today the fleet consists of two Piper Warriors painted in pseudo-"training black" (actually dark blue) to enhance visibility in line with RAF training aircraft policies.

AirTanker Services is operating the RAF's Airbus A330 MRTT (Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft) to provide aerial re-fueling services at Brize Norton.

Squadrons and aircraft

The final four Hercules aircraft en route to RAF Brize Norton on 1 July 2011

Former operational RAF units and aircraft

See also



  1. "Why are we here?". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  2. "RAF Brize Norton". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  3. Hearn, Dan (4 February 2011). "RAF Brize Norton to double in size". Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  4. "Brize Norton". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  5. Jefford 1988, p. 55.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Jefford 1988, p. 84.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Jefford 1988, p. 27.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Jefford 1988, p. 42.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jefford 1988, p. 53.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Jefford 1988, p. 95.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jefford 1988, p. 57.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jefford 1988, p. 54.
  13. Jefford 1988, p. 71.
  14. Morris, Steven (8 September 2011). "RAF Brize Norton expects 2,000 people as military repatriations return". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 14 Sep 2011. 
  15. "RAF Brize Norton ceremony marks Lyneham transfer". 1 September 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  16. "Brize Norton continues its evolution into main RAF hub". Ministry of Defence. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  17. Heath, Ashley (31 August 2010). "RAF Lyneham Closure Plan". BBC. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  18. "RAF Lyneham relocates to Brize Norton". 1 July 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  19. "RAF Brize Norton - Programme Future Brize". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  20. "Housing shortages at Brize Norton caused by funding constraints". 9 March 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  21. "New hangar opens for tanker aircraft at RAF Brize Norton". 31 March 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  22. Mooney, Tom (1 July 2011). "Mixed emotions as Hercules leave RAF Lyneham". Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  23. "Activists lay down on runway". War Resister's International. 1 March 2003. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  24. "Rowdy teens break peace at Brize camp". Oxford Mail. 30 April 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 
  25. "RAF Brize Norton blockaded". UK Indymedia. 12 August 2006. Retrieved 5 March 2011. 


  • Jefford, C.G, MBE,BA ,RAF (Retd). 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.

External links

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