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RAF Henlow
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Henlow, Bedfordshire in England
Henlow Airfield - geograph.org.uk - 4549988.jpg
RAF Henlow from above
RAF Henlow badge.jpg
Labor Arma Ministrat
(Latin for Labour supplies the arms)
Coordinates 52°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
Type RAF training station
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Controlled by No. 22 Group (Training)
Site history
Built 1918 (1918)
Built by McAlpine (1918)
various since
In use 1918–Present
Garrison information
Current
commander
Wing Commander William Andrew
Occupants
  • RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine
  • Provost Marshal’s Dog Unit
  • The Provost Marshal (RAF) Dog Inspectorate
  • Defence Cultural Specialist Unit
  • The Band of The Queen's Division
  • Joint Arms Control Implementation Group
  • Information Systems Support – Engineering Operations
  • Defence Equipment & Support
Airfield information
Identifiers ICAO: EGWE
Elevation 51.2 metres (168 ft) AMSL
Runways
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

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), elements of Defence Equipment and Support, and the Signals Museum. It formerly hosted light aircraft flying 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.

History

Henlow was chosen as a military aircraft repair depot in 1917 and was built by MacAlpine during 1918. 4 Belfast Hangars were built and are now listed buildings. An additional hangar was added to the inventory in the 1930s and this too is now listed. 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 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. The Officers Engineering School moved there in 1924 from Farnborough.

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. Between 1932 and 1933, Sir Frank Whittle was a student at the RAF technical College on the base. He later spent some time in charge of aero engine testing on the base before being sent to Cambridge.

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. 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. The finished Hurricanes were completed on the decks of the carriers and flown out to Malta. Over 1,000 Hurricanes (about 10% of the total) were built by Canadian Car and Foundry and shipped to Henlow. Henlow was also used as a repair base for many aircraft types under the direction of No. 13 Maintenance Unit.

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). The original tower and parts of the airfield were seen in several scenes in the 1969 war film 'The Battle of Britain'.

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. The college was amalgamated with RAF College Cranwell in 1965. The RAF Officer Cadet Training Unit then moved in, but this also moved to Cranwell in 1980.

Henlow then hosted the RAF Signals Engineering Establishment and the Radio Engineering Unit, established in 1980. In 1983, the Land Registry took over part of the site. The missile corporation MBDA once 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.

The following units were here at some point:

  • No. 19 Squadron RAF
  • No. 23 Squadron RAF
  • No. 43 Squadron RAF
  • No. 80 Squadron RAF
  • No. 1 Air Stores Park
  • No. 1 AACU 'X' Flight
  • No. 1 AACU 'Y' Flight
  • No. 1 AACU 'Z' Flight
  • No. 2 Air Stores Park
  • No. 2 RAF Depot
  • No. 2 Salvage Centre
  • No. 3 Air Stores Park
  • No. 3 Ferry Pool RAF
  • No. 3 Salvage Centre
  • No. 4 Salvage Centre
  • No. 5 (Eastern) ARD
  • No. 6 Air Stores Park
  • No. 7 Air Stores Park
  • No. 13 Maintenance Unit RAF
  • No. 13 School of Technical Training RAF
  • No. 14 School of Technical Training RAF
  • No. 20 Air Stores Park
  • No. 43 Group Communications Flight
  • No. 49 Maintenance Unit RAF
  • No. 106 Gliding School RAF
  • No. 616 Gliding School RAF became No. 616 Volunteer Gliding School RAF
  • No. 1959 Reserve Air Observation Post Flight RAF
  • No. 1961 Reserve Air Observation Post Flight RAF
  • No. 2709 Squadron RAF Regiment
  • No. 2727 Squadron RAF Regiment
  • Home Aircraft Depot
  • Inland Area Aircraft Depot
  • Parachute Test Unit (Ministry of Supply)
  • Pilotless Aircraft Section RAF
  • Queen Bee Flight RAF
  • Rapier Cold Trials Unit
  • RAF School of Aeronautical Engineering (Officers)
  • Signals Development Unit RAF became Radio Engineering Unit

Present

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), 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, gradually transitioned over to RAF 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.

Facilities

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.

Planned closure

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. The closure date was later extended to 2023.

Based units

Notable units based at RAF Henlow.

Royal Air Force

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
    • RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine
      • Centre of Aviation Medicine Headquarters
      • Aviation Medicine Wing
      • Occupational and Environmental Medicine Wing
      • Support Wing

Other

  • Signals Museum

British Army

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

  • Defence Cultural Specialist Unit

Strategic Command

  • Joint Arms Control Implementation Group (JACIG)

Defence Digital

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

Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S)

  • 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

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.

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