|RAF Little Rissington|
|RAF Little Rissington Main Site 2006|
|IATA: none – ICAO: EGVL|
|Airport type||Military: Royal Air Force station|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|In use||1938 - Present (1993 operationally)|
|Elevation AMSL||730 ft / 223 m|
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RAF Little Rissington (ICAO: EGVL) is an RAF aerodrome and former RAF station in Gloucestershire, England. It was once home to the Central Flying School, the Vintage Pair and the Red Arrows. Built during the 1930s, the station was opened in 1938 and closed in 1994. The married-quarters and main technical site were sold in 1996 (the former becoming the village of Upper Rissington), but the aerodrome has been retained by the Ministry of Defence and remains active along with the southern technical sites, under the operational control of No.3 Flying Training School at RAFC Cranwell.
It is now home to 637 Volunteer Gliding Squadron as the primary military unit, who provide elementary flying training for Combined Cadet Force and Air Training Corps cadets. The airfield is also used by the forces as a relief landing ground, training area and parachute dropping area. In previous years, the Royal Air Force estate has been used as a film set, including The Avengers, part of the ice chase in Die Another Day, and the Thunderbirds film.
The beginning: 1930s into war
During the build-up to the Second World War, the Air Ministry began constructing major airfields across the United Kingdom under what was known as the Expansion Period. RAF Little Rissington was one of these airfields.
RAF Little Rissington officially opened in 1938, comprising the domestic site and a grass airfield. During 1942, three asphalt runways were laid. Extra land was added to accommodate Sites A to E. Later in the war, the main runway 05/23 was extended northerly (later to become the main runway for instrument landings), 09/27 and 14/32 were extended easterly and south-easterly respectively.
Up to 1945 the station accommodated No. 6 Service Flying Training School and No. 8 Maintenance Unit RAF. No. 8 Maintenance Unit was originally designated No. 8 Aircraft Storage Unit (ASU), however as the Second World War increased its momentum, so did the number of aircraft being stored. During the mid-1940s dispersal areas began openly storing aircraft, that had arrived straight from the manufacture. Due to security concerns, the level of security protection stepped up during the war, including the Station's own fighter force of several Spitfires. Later in the war, various satellite airfields were used to spread out the increased number of aircraft.
Central Flying School: 1946 to 1976
1946 the Royal Air Force Central Flying School moved to Little Rissington. The airfield also became the home to the RAF's aerobatics teams which included the Red Pelicans and later the Red Arrows. The airfield was expanded during this period, and a new fire station and control tower were built.
Imjin Barracks: 1977 to 1979
USAF(E) RAF Little Rissington: 1981 to 1993
With the arrival of the United States Air Force in Europe, Little Rissington became the largest military contingency hospital in Europe. The aerodrome was cleared for C-130 Hercules and C5 Galaxies. During the Gulf War, Little Rissington was held on its highest readiness state for several decades as it prepared for casualties. The USAF left Little Rissington in 1993 and it was handed back to the Royal Air Force.
The draw down: 1994 to 2005
Little Rissington was identified as surplus to requirements in the Government's "Options for Change" package and the entire site was put up for sale. The domestic and main technical sites of the station were sold to a property developer and became a business park.
Revival: 2006 to 2010
Following a Defence Review, the planned disposal of RAF Little Rissington was stopped, and so the immediate future of the aerodrome was secured. Several buildings received some minor upgrades. At the end of 2006, a civilian aircraft maintenance firm called 'Devonair' moved in under an agreement with the Ministry of Defence until 2012. In 2008, RAF Little Rissington was designated a Core Site up to 2030, under the Defence Estates Development Plan 2008. While nothing has yet been confirmed, RAF Little Rissington has been looked at to support various changes:
- Satellite for RAF Brize Norton in supporting the Future Brize Project (formerly Project CATARA) with C130 Hercules training and maintenance.
- Satellite for RAF Benson, to provide a relief landing ground for helicopter training, and potentially relief storage pending the future decision on the Lyneham estate.
At the end of 2011, the Upper Rissington Business Park owner Reland commenced the demolition of the main technical site. This demolition forms part of their future plans are to turn the technical site and former married quarters into an eco-town.
The airfield, RAF Little Rissington, remains active for elementary flying training and aircraft maintenance. With the increasing reduction in military aerodromes, RAF Little Rissington is steadily becoming more active for military flying and ground training.
Rumours of an underground hospital
It is a local belief that a nuclear-proof underground hospital built by the United States Air Force lies underneath RAF Little Rissington. This rumour has, however, never been verified. However, it was widely accepted at the time that tunnels were dug during the Second World War, ostensibly for the Royal Observer Corps, a frequently adopted strategy used to disguise covert electronic warfare establishments. Whether this tunnel network was developed during the 1980s is unknown.
A bunker is attached to the Sick Ward/Medical Centre at the main technical site. It is commonly mistaken for the rumoured underground USAF(E) hospital. The ward/bunker is covered in earth for protection and to remove the need to move patients during air raids. It dates back to the station's construction in the 1930s. Consequently it is above the surface and it is not nuclear-proof.
This bunker was demolished, along with many other unused structures, in December 2011 as part of the site owners' progress toward converting the site into a housing estate.
RAF Little Rissington is one of several MoD estates with an ancient monument. On the eastern side of the aerodrome there is a Long barrow, dated to between 4000BC and 2400BC. During the Second World War, the Air Ministry built a large air-raid shelter into it to protect the service personnel working in the maintenance units. Under the MoD's obligation to preserve and protect the UK's ancient monuments on their estates, this particular monument has in recent years been subject to several inspections by Defence Estates.
- No. 8 Aircraft Storage Unit (1938–1946), renamed No. 8 Maintenance Unit RAF
Flying training units
- No. 6 Service Flying Training School (1938–1942), renamed No. 6 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit (1942-?)
- No. 23 Blind Approach Training Flight (1941–1942), renamed No. 1523 Blind Approach Training Flight (1942–1945)
- Royal Air Force Central Flying School (1946–1976)
- No. 637 Gliding School (1976–2005), renamed No. 637 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (2005–Present)
Aerobatics display units
- Royal Irish Rangers (1977–1978)
- United States Air Force - European Force (1981–1993)
- 20th Tactical Fighter Wing - (Lodging)
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