During 1914-1918, there were over 300 airfields in operation by the Royal Flying Corps to battle against the attacks during World War 1. Today, very few of these old air bases are still in use. Many now lie disused or are used for farmland, housing or industrial complexes.
Here are some of the most iconic WW1 airfields around the UK, some you may recognise and a few that are still in use today.
RAF Bicester (1916-present)
Bicester was first established as a training depot in 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps.
It then became a base for the 118 Night-Bomber Squadron a year later to operate Vickers Vimys aircraft. However none came about before the squadron had to disbanded. After the war, the base was closed where all squadrons disbanded.
Five years later, the site was redeveloped as an RAF bomber base with many new buildings. The redevelopment also included the construction of a connection from the nearby ‘Varsity Line’ railway to supply the airfield.
Today the airfield has been brought back to life by the Bicester Heritage Company LTD. Their vision is to be the UK’s first business park dedicated to historic, vintage motoring and aviation.
Experience a flight experience yourself from our Bicester base with Air Experiences. Take to the skies from this fantastic old RAF base featured in both World Wars. See if you can spot any of the local, iconic fortification.
Fly over the prestigious University City of Oxford. Take in the panoramic views of the Oxfordshire countryside in our classic, open cockpit Tiger Moth or have your world turned upside down in our fabulous aerobatic flight experience in a CAP10.
RAF Biggin Hill (1916-present)
During the War, Biggin Hill was responsible for defending London from attacks by the Zeppelins and Gotha bombers as part of the London Air Defence Area. Towards the latter phase of the war, No.141 squadron operating Bristol Fighters were based out of Biggin Hill.
Today, Biggin Hill Airport is one of the UK’s fastest growing business airports, innovating and investing into aviation businesses. It is also a major hub for charter jet companies.
Brattleby (RAF Scampton) (1916-present)
33 Squadron was the first unit based at Brattleby flying FE2bs to defend against the Zeppelin threats. The site then became a training site for No.60, No.81 and No.11 Squadrons respectively. In 1917, the base was renamed to Scampton.
Now, RAF Scampton is home to the world renown Red Arrows Aerobatic Display Team. It is also home to the Mobile Meteorological Unit as well as No.1 Air Control Centre, playing a major role in protecting UK airspace.
Old Sarum (1917-2019)
Requisitioned in 1917 by the War Office, Old Sarum was predominantly used for pilot training as well as fighter training.
German prisoners of war constructed three pairs of large aircraft hangars and one repair hanger – some of these hangars can be seen at the airfield today! Later in 1917 the first air units arrived – the three-day bomber squadrons flying the Airco DH4 and DH9.
Unfortunately Old Sarum has recently closed to become a housing estate, leaving the former parachute club and flying club to close and private pilots having to relocate.
(Bristol Filton Airport) (1910-2012)
33 Squadron, who were first based at Filton, were employed by Home Defence to guard against the German airships raids in northern England. They were equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory BE2’s across 3 sites including Brattleby. Filton was the widest runway in the UK and also the home of flight testing for Concorde.
Today the airfield is used as an industrial estate with Airbus owning a facility for wing development and manufacturing as well as housing development.
Turnhouse Aerodrome (Edinburgh Airport) (1915-present)
The most northerly British Defence base during WW1 opened in 1915 and was used to house 603 squadron (City of Edinburgh). DH9As, Westland Wapitis, Hawker Harts and Hawker Hind light bombers flew out of its grass strip.
Operating now as Edinburgh Airport, the aerodrome experiences over 120,000 aircraft movements and is the 6th busiest airport in the UK.
Farnborough became the first airfield in the UK in 1905, base to the Army Balloon Factory. Being the epicentre to British aviation research and innovation there have been many aviation firsts at Farnborough. In 1907, British military’s first airship designed and built at Farnborough.
During the First World War, Farnborough Aircraft Factory developed and repaired various aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps. Now under the control of TAG, Farnborough is the equivalent to Heathrow for business jets.
RAF Upavon (1912-1993)
In 1912, Upavon became home to the Army Central Flying School. During 1913, England’s first night landing made was achieved at Upavon. Officers of the Central Flying School at Upavon developed the bomb sight which was used successfully on the Western front.
Today, the site is used by the British Army as a garrison called the ‘Trenchard Lines’ after being handed over to the Army in 1993. Also, the site is extremely active with military glider training.
Duxford was first established in 1918 when many of its buildings were constructed by German prisoners of war. Following the War, No.8 Squadron equipped with F2Bs moved to Duxford for the next 2 years. From 1920, No.2 squadron used the airfield as a Flying Training School.
Duxford later played a major part in the Second World War, operating Spitfire’s and Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain.
Today, Duxford Airfield is owned by the Imperial War Museum. Being site to the Imperial War Museum Duxford and the American War Museum, both of which are open to visitors. Duxford is a definite ‘must see’ for any aviation enthusiast and a great place for a day out for the whole family.
Air Experiences offers fantastic flying experiences in classic, vintage aircraft from Duxford including: the open cockpit Tiger Moths and the 1930’s 8-seater wartime airliner, the Dragon Rapid. During your flight, you will take to the skies over the gorgeous University City of Cambridge, soar over the River Cam and take in the impressive skyline of London. You may even have a go at the controls of the aircraft!
RAF Halton (1913-Present)
Under a gentlemen’s agreement, Halton estate was allowed to be used by the British Army for the duration of the First World War. In 1916, the Royal Air Corps moved their Air Mechanics school from Farnborough to Halton and permanent workshops were setup by German PoW. By the end of the war, the British Government purchased the estate for the future RAF.
Now one of the largest RAF stations in the UK, Halton is primarily used to train military and civilian personnel in preforming the highest standards. The site is also home of the RAFGSA with glidings operating from the site.
RAF Marham (1916-Present)
Marham’s primarily role was to protect Norfolk from Zeppelin raids. However, Marham was also used for night flight training.
Today, Marham is one of the RAF’s main operating bases home to the F-35B Lightning operating along aside the 617 Squadron (The Dambusters).
RAF Shawbury (1917- Present)
Shawbury was primarily a training base for the Flying Corpse. Following the war, the base closed and all buildings and hangars were demolished. The base was reactivated just before the Second World War as a training site which remains open to the present-day, training around 1,000 students per year for the Armed Forces. The main use of the site today is for the Defence Helicopter Flying School & Central Flying School (Helicopters) Squadron, if you want to fly helicopter in the Army – you’ll certainly be visiting Shawbury!
RAF Waddington (1916-present)
During WW1, Waddington was used as a flying training station for student pilots and members of the US army. Over 7 Squadrons were based over the duration of the war.
Now, it’s another one of RAF’s busiest stations being the hub of UK intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR). It is the main operating base for E-3D sentry.
Stamford (RAF Wittering) (1916-present)
Originally known as Stamford Airfield, it was initially to operate BE12 aircraft in the anti-zeppelin role, along aside their main force of 38 Squadron at Melton Mowbray. As WW1 continued, the airfield became training grounds for new recruits. It then became RAF Wittering in 1918.
It is now Headquarters to RAF A4 Force, vital engineering and logistics support.
Stowe Maries, Essex (1916-1919)
Europe’s best-preserved WW1 airfield
Stowe Maries opened in 1916 and was HQ to No.37 Squadron who operated as Home Defence for London defending against aerial attacks. However the RAF closed the base in 1919.
It is now a history site conserved by groups of volunteers where you can visit its museums and persevered Grade 1 listed buildings. It is stated to be Europe’s best preserved WW1 airfield, an absolute MUST SEE!
The first operational base to the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps and it’s now one of the oldest military airfields in the UK, having been in continuous use since 1913. Today the site is used by the ‘Joint Services Parachute Centre’, part of the Army’s ‘Adventurous Training’ programme for serving and injured servicemen.
flight experience from a WW1 airfield?
If you fancy taking to the skies from a World War 1 airfield, take a look at some of Air Experiences flight experiences offered from Bicester Airfield and Duxford Aerodrome. These fabulous locations are a brilliant place to take your first flying experience. Take a step back in time, walk the paths and fly in the aircraft your ancestors did!
Aerobatic Flight Experience Bicester£219.00
Tiger Moth Flying Experience at Bicester Airfield£145.00 – £449.00
Dragon Rapide Flight Cambridge£99.00 – £499.00
Tiger Moth Flight Experience at Duxford, Cambridgeshire£169.00 – £299.00