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RAF Upper Heyford
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svgShield Strategic Air Command.pngUnited States Air Forces in Europe.png
Welcome to RAF Upper Heyford 620th air base wing. This sign was seen at the entrance to the base in 2001.
IATA: none – ICAO: none
Airport type Military
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Location Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire
Built 1916
In use 1916-1918 Royal Flying Corps
1918-1950 Royal Air Force
1950-1994 United States Air Force
Elevation AMSL 433 ft / 132 m
Coordinates 51°56′13″N 001°15′12″W / 51.93694°N 1.25333°W / 51.93694; -1.25333Coordinates: 51°56′13″N 001°15′12″W / 51.93694°N 1.25333°W / 51.93694; -1.25333

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RAF Upper Heyford was a Royal Air Force station located 5 miles (8 km) north-west of Bicester near the village of Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, England. The station was first used by the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 but was not brought into use for flying until July 1918 by the Royal Air Force. During the inter-war years and continuing through the Second World War until 1950 Upper Heyford was used mainly as a training facility. During the Cold War, Upper Heyford initially served as a base for United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) strategic bombers and later United States Air Forces In Europe (USAFE) tactical reconnaissance, fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft in the UK.

Upper Heyford was unique among bases in the United Kingdom as only the flight-line area required military identification to access. The rest of the base, save the commercial facilities, was accessible to military and non-military alike. Upper Heyford was also unique in that the airspace around the base (from the surface to 3500') was protected by a mandatory radio area (UHMRA) in which private pilots were required to be in contact with the base controllers on frequency 128.55 when flying past or overhead.

Royal Air Force use

During World War II the airfield was used by many units of the Royal Air Force (RAF), mainly as a training facility between 1918 and 1950. During September 1939 Upper Heyford was the home of No. 70 Wing RAF with Nos 18 and 57 Squadrons which were part of No. 2 Group RAF. From March 1946 until June 1950 it was the home of No.1 Parachute Training School RAF.[1][2]

United States Air Force use

7509th Air Base Group

In response to what was perceived as a growing worldwide threat, Strategic Air Command decided to base a strong force of American bomber aircraft in England. It was decided to convert four airfields in and around Oxfordshire to serve as their regular bases. Upper Heyford was one of those selected, the others being RAF Brize Norton, RAF Fairford and RAF Greenham Common.

On 26 June 1950, men of the 801st Engineer Aviation Battalion started work on extending the 6,000 ft (1,829 m) runway to 8,300 ft (2,530 m). Also new hardstands were constructed for the very heavy bombers of SAC's Intercontinental Bombing Force of B-36s and B-50s. A secure weapons storage facility was also added.

On 7 July 1950, the first group of United States Air Force personnel arrived on the station. The original organization consisted of one officer and 26 airmen. It was designated the 7509th Air Base Squadron. The 7509th would act as the host organization to support the TDY aircraft and personnel detached from their home bases in the United States.

Upper Heyford was formally handed over to the USAF 3rd Air Force on 15 May 1951. This was formalised at a special ceremonial parade on 1 June.

Visiting TDY rotational units at Upper Heyford were: 93rd Bomb Wing, 97th Air Refueling Squadron, 509th Air Refueling Squadron, 301st Bomb Wing, 8th Air Sea Rescue Squadron, 2nd Bomb Wing, 5th Bomb Wing Detachment, and the 22nd Bomb Wing.

On 25 May 1951 the 7509th Air Base Squadron was redesignated the 7509th Air Base Group. Then, on 10 January 1952, the 7509th Air Base Group at Upper Heyford became the 3918th Air Base Group. Also on this date the Third Air Force, under United States Air Force Europe, relinquished control of the station and turned it over to the Strategic Air Command.

3918th Strategic Wing


The first SAC aircraft to be based at UH were the 15 B-50Ds of the 328th Bombardment Squadron, which arrived in December 1951, whilst the other three-squadrons of the 93rd Bombardment Wing were deployed to RAF Lakenheath.

By September 1952, Upper Heyford was ready to handle a full complement of 45 aircraft and when the 2nd Bombardment Wing arrived it deployed all three of its bombardment squadrons here with their B-50s Lakenheath. SAC Squadrons and Wings continued to be deployed to the base throughout the 1950s and 60's.

One of the most notable events of 1954 was the arrival of the first of the truly massive RB-36s, a small number of which flew in for a brief stay in June and July by the 5th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.

In 1958 the unit was redesignated the 3918th Combat Support Group.

Occasional visits by the huge B-52 commenced at the end of 1960 and became more and more frequent over the next five years. Meanwhile, following nuclear tests behind the 'Iron Curtain' in the summer of 1962, a detachment of top secret U-2 strategic reconnaissance aircraft operated from Upper Heyford in August to carry out air sampling and analysis at very high altitudes in order to determine the characteristics of latest Soviet weapons. A third new aircraft type was the B-58 Hustler was occasionally seen.

On 1 February 1964 the unit was redesignated the 3918th Strategic Wing.

In 1964, it was decided that regular detachments of SAC bomber aircraft to England would cease altogether, and both Fairford and Greenham Common were closed. At Upper Heyford 'Reflex Alert' continued until 1 January 1965, and the very last B-47 detachment was stood down at RAF Brize Norton on 1 March 1965.

As well as the bomber force, Brize Norton had regularly hosted small and highly secret detachments of reconnaissance aircraft such as the RB-47s of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Forbes AFB and later at Offutt AFB. In preparation for the transfer of Brize Norton to the RAF, this operations had to be relocated and since Upper Heyford was the only station of the four Oxfordshire bases to remain in American hands, it became the new advanced base for these special operations. A new Detachment was formed, designated as the Detachment 1, 98th Strategic Wing, supporting the RC-135 of the 55th and the 6th Strategic Wing, at Eielson AFB, Alaska and supporting KC-135A tankers from the 98th SW at Torrejon AB Spain. The 6985th Security Squadron, USAFSS at Eielson AFB also maintained Detachment 1, supporting Communications Intelligence Specialist flying on the RC-135's. When the 3918th Strategic Wing was discontinued in the summer of 1965, the base was transferred to the United States Air Forces Europe and assigned to the Third Air Force and the newly organized 7514th Combat Support Group.

66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing

On 7 March 1966, French President Charles De Gaulle announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure. The United States was informed that it must remove its military forces from France by 1 April 1967.

McDonnell RF-101F-56-MC 56-0217 of the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. The combination green, yellow, blue and red stripes on the tail signify the wing commander's aircraft

Newly arrived RF-4Cs of the 66th Tactical Recon Wing - September 1969. McDonnell RF-4C-31-MC Phantom 66-0430 is in the foreground. This aircraft served for many years, eventually being retired to AMARC on 8 October 1992.

Upper Heyford was now to serve as the new and urgently needed base for the RF-101 s of the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing which had been stationed at Laon-Couvron Air Base, France. After rapid preparations had been made, the unforeseen transfer of this unit was completed by 1 September 1966.

The 66th TRW was composed of the 17th and 18th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons.

During 1968 it was announced that the 66th TRW was to convert to the RF-4C Phantom in the following year. On 27 March 1969, the first two Phantoms flew into Upper Heyford. and the 66th became a mixed reconnaissance force. The RF-101C's were assigned to the 18th TRS and were limited to the daylight role. The RF-4C's were assigned to the 17th TRS and were capable of an all weather day and night operation.

The advent of the RF-4 gave the 66th TRW a longer arm in terms of target access. In the event of a ‘hot’ war the longer reach of the wing's aircraft would have made many previously inaccessible targets behind the iron curtain easily acquired from the bases in West Germany to which they would have been deployed.

The Phantoms did not stay for long, however, as in January 1970 the inactivation of the 66th TRW commenced, the RF-4Cs of the 17th TRS going to the 86th TFW at Zweibrücken in Germany, and the RF-101s of the 18th TRS to the 363rd TRW at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

Base Flight Section of the 66th Field Maintenance Squadron maintained C-54, C-47, VT-29 (for the Commander 322d AD), supporting 3d Air Force operations and air transport requirements. The Wing also operated Detachment 1 at RAF Northolt supporting VIP operations outside of London. Since the early 1950s, the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing had been operating from the USAF station at RAF Wethersfield, but this base had a limited potential for development and was awkwardly close to the expanding civilian airport at Stansted. Now with more aircraft on the base than there had been for some time, it was necessary to transfer the 98th Strategic Wing detachment as well as Detachment 1, 6985th Security Squadron to RAF Mildenhall, thus bringing to an end the SAC/USAFSS presence on 31 Mar 1970.

The 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Upper Heyford was inactivated and 66th Combat Support Group and assigned squadrons (Without Personnel or Equipment)were relocated to RAF Wethersfield.

20th Tactical Fighter Wing

20th Fighter Wing.png

Headquarters, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing relocated from RAF Wethersfield to RAF Upper Heyford on 1 June 1970.

Shortly after arriving at Upper Heyford, the 20th TFW began converting to a new aircraft - the General Dynamics F-111E Aardvark (unofficially). On 12 September 1970, the first two F-111Es arrived at RAF Upper Heyford. The last of the 20th's F-100s that it brought from Wethersfield were transferred to the Air National Guard on 12 February 1971. In November 1971, the wing's F-111s were declared operationally ready.

General Dynamics F-111E Serial 68-0028 of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing Shown painted in 1976 Bicentennial motif. This aircraft served for many years in the 20th TFW, frequently appearing at static displays. In 1993 it was finally retired and sent to AMARC.

General Dynamics F/EF-111A Serial 66-0049 42nd Electronic Countermeasure squadron - 20th Tactical Fighter Wing. Believed to have been used as electronic jammer aircraft in "Operation El Dorado Canyon". This aircraft is now on display at Mountain Home AFB Idaho.

The 20th TFW participated in F-111 NATO and US unilateral operations Shabaz, Display Determination, Cold Fire, Ocean Safari, Datex, Priory, Reforger, Dawn Patrol, Highwood, Hammer, and others from January 1972 to October 1993.

Upper Heyford gained a fourth flying squadron on 1 July 1983, with the activation of the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron. In February 1984, the first Grumman (General Dynamics) EF-111A Ravens of that squadron arrived.

Parental responsibility over the 42nd by the 20th TFW was short-lived, however, and on 1 June 1985, operational control of the squadron shifted to the 66th Electronic Combat Wing at Sembach Air Base, West Germany.

Operation El Dorado Canyon

In March 1986, the 66th Electronic Combat Wing detached the 42nd ECS to the 20th TFW to take part in El Dorado Canyon, the raid on Libya.

On 14 April 1986, 5 EF-111As and 20 F-111Es took off from RAF Upper Heyford as part of the attack force. They were used as an airborne reserve for the F-111Fs of the 48th TFW, RAF Lakenheath. Three EF-111s (two were spares and turned back) formed up with the 48th's F-111Fs and provided electronic defense during the attack on Tripoli.

Operation Desert Storm

On 25 January 1991, the wing was once again up to four flying squadrons when the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron was reassigned to the 20th from the 66th Electronic Combat Wing.

On 17 January 1991, 20th TFW aircraft launched combat missions from both Turkey and Saudi Arabia and continued flying combat missions until the cease fire. The F-111Es flying from Turkey flew night missions throughout the war, using the TFR to penetrate the dense anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) environment at altitudes around 200 feet (61 m) for the first few nights.

Crews who flew those first few terrifying nights said that the illumination from the AAA was so bright that they didn't need the TFR to avoid the ground. After the missile threat was suppressed, crews flew their attacks at altitudes around 20,000 feet (6,096 m), above the range of most Iraqi AAA systems.

During the war, the F-111Es attacked a range of targets, including power plants, petroleum refineries, airfields, nuclear-biological-chemical processing and storage facilities, and electronics sites throughout northern Iraq,

When Desert Storm ended, the wing had deployed 458 personnel, flown 1,798 combat sorties without a loss, and dropped 4,714 tons of ordnance.

Post Cold-War era

Aerial view of the station

With the end of the Cold War, the presence of the 20th TFW was deemed no longer necessary in England. The USAF presence at RAF Upper Heyford was gradually phased down.

The 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, along with the associated 55th, 77th, and 79th Tactical Fighter Squadrons were officially redesignated the 20th Fighter Wing and 55th, 77th and 79th Fighter Squadrons on 1 October 1991.

On 19 October 1993, aircraft 67-120 went to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford where it is now on display. It retains the 55th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Wing markings it carried when based at Upper Heyford. It flew 19 Desert Storm missions and flew into Duxford on 19 October 1993.

The last of the wing's three aircraft departed from Upper Heyford on 7 December 1993. The flagship of the 55th Fighter Squadron, aircraft 68-055 Heartbreaker, departed first. It went to Robins AFB, Georgia, where it is now on display. The next aircraft, 68-061 The Last Roll of Me Dice, departed for the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis Monthan AFB Arizona. Finally, aircraft 68-020 The Chief, flew to Hill AFB, Utah, where it is now on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum.


The base was home to the Upper Heyford High School Hadites until Spring 1975 when the school moved to RAF Croughton. The School kept the name "Upper Heyford High School" until Autumn 1982 when it was then given its new name of "Croughton High School". The Upper Heyford/Croughton High School Hadites were renowned across DoDDS Europe high schools for their athletic legacy.

Peace Camp

[citation needed]

Upper Heyford peace camp was established on Easter Sunday 1982 and remained for over two years with activities designed to highlight the fact that the base had F-111 aircraft armed with nuclear weapons on fast response. It was inspired by the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp and offered an opportunity for interested parties to protest against the deployment of cruise missiles and the escalating nuclear arms race.

The most important demonstration happened in 1983 when one of the largest demonstrations took place. More than 4,000 people took part over four days and a total of 752 people were arrested - one of the highest arrest rates during a demonstration outside a military base in the UK.


The hospital at Upper Heyford was closed and fenced off in 2001.

On 15 December 1993 the flight line at RAF Upper Heyford was closed. On 1 January 1994 the 20th Fighter Wing inactivated at RAF Upper Heyford and was transferred without personnel or equipment to Shaw AFB, South Carolina, where it inherited the personnel and F-16s of the inactivated 363rd Fighter Wing.

At that time RAF Upper Heyford came under the 620th Air Base Wing until 30 September 1994 when the base was returned to the Ministry of Defence.

The runways are now home to a variety of wildlife including the scarce Lowland Calcareous Grassland and rare bird species such as the peregrine falcon, skylark and buzzard. Some of the buildings are used as an automotive storage compound for new and used vehicles. Other functions include police driving activities such as training. There is a boat builders called Kingsground Narrowboats located at building 103, this building is the oldest on the base and used to be the fire department originally, outside the boatbuilding workshop there are still parking spaces road marked as 'FD'. The majority of the residential buildings are now let out as rented accommodation and some of the shops and services have been re-opened to service the community.

There are however many buildings which are still boarded up and it is currently unclear what the future of those will be. It seems that many of the buildings such as the hospital have been targeted by vandals who have smashed glass and walls in as well as internal fittings. Graffiti has also occurred, as well as the whole hospital suffering from damage from leaking rainwater that has subsequently caused extensive mould, damp floors and a flooded basement. The building, however has now been secured as it is rumoured to be sold. The disused buildings have also become popular with local Urban Explorers.

Several of the hardened aircraft shelters were placed on the English Heritage list of scheduled monuments in 2010.[3] A bid was made in 2011 for the site to receive World Heritage Site status but it did not make the UK shortlist.[4]

In May 2012, the residential section was leased to First And Only Airsoft for a short period of use as an airsoft site. This lease ended in January 2013.

In popular culture

The base has appeared in several film and television productions, portraying various fictional military sites. It appeared as a USAFE base in West Germany for the James Bond film Octopussy in 1982,[5] and as the fictional "RAF Baywaters" (intended to invoke RAF Bentwaters) in The Fourth Protocol. The abandoned base also appeared as "RAF Heyford" in the television series Lewis, series five episode "Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things", first broadcast in 2011, playing an important role in the development of the plot.[6] It was also used in the film World War Z, due to be released in 2013, with scenes featuring a supermarket and a large number of American cars.[7]

See also




  • Baugher, Joseph F. (2007) USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to Present, Online website, latest revision [accessed 30 July 2007]
  • Endicott, Judy G. (Ed.) (1998) USAF active flying, space and missile Squadrons as of 1 October 1995 [electronic resource], Washington, D.C. : Air Force History and Museums Program, USAF, CD-ROM (pdf) and booklet, 7 p.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984) Air Force combat wings : lineage and honors histories, 1947-1977, Washington, D.C. : Office of Air Force History, USAF, ISBN 0-912799-12-9

External links

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