Duxford Airfield

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DUXFORD AIRFIELD dates back to 1918 when many of the buildings were constructed with German prisoner-of-war labour. The airfield housed 8 Squadron equipped with F.2Bs in 1919 and 1920. The airfield was then used by No. 2 Flying Training School until April 1923 when 19 Squadron was formed at Duxford with Sopwith Snipes.

By 1925 Duxford's three fighter squadrons had expanded to include the Gloster Grebes and Armstrong Whitworth Siskins. No.19 Squadron re-equipped with Bristol Bulldogs in 1931, and in 1935, was the first squadron to fly the RAF's fastest new fighter, the Gloster Gauntlet, capable of 230 mph (375 km/h). The station was enlarged between 1928 and 1932. In 1935, Duxford was the venue for the Silver Jubilee Review before King George V and Queen Mary, the resident squadron still being 19. This squadron gave a special demonstration over Duxford for the King.

In 1936 Flight Lieutenant Frank Whittle, who was studying at Cambridge University, flew regularly from Duxford as a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron. Whittle went on to develop the jet turbine as a means of powering an aircraft which enabled Britain to produce the Allies' first operational jet fighter in 1943 - the Gloster Meteor.

In 1938 No.19 Squadron was the first RAF squadron to fly the new Supermarine Spitfire. The first Spitfire was flown into Duxford on 4 August 1938 by Jeffrey Quill, Supermarine's chief test pilot.

On 3 September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany and Duxford was ready to play a vital role. By June 1940 Belgium, the Netherlands and France were under German control and the invasion of Britain was their next objective (Operation Sea Lion). Duxford was placed in a high state of readiness, to create space for additional units at Duxford, 19 Squadron moved to nearby Fowlmere.

The dominance of the skies over Britain would be totally critical to keeping German forces out, this became known as The Battle of Britain. Hurricanes first arrived at Duxford in July with the formation of 310 Squadron, which consisted of Czechoslovakian pilots escaped from France. At the end of August Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory the commander of No. 12 Group ordered the Hurricanes of 242 Squadron commanded by Douglas Bader to come down from Coltishall to join 19 and 310 Squadrons which were on daily standby at Duxford.

On 9 September the Duxford squadrons successfully intercepted and turned back a large force of German bombers before they reached their target. On average sixty Spitfires and Hurricanes were dispersed around Duxford and RAF Fowlmere every day. On 15 September 1940 they twice took to the air to repulse Luftwaffe attacks intent at bombing London. This became known as 'Battle of Britain Day'.

Duxford was crucial in developing the Hawker Typhoon into a formidable low-level and ground attack fighter and in 1942 the first Typhoon Wing was formed. The first Wing operation took place on 20 June 1942.

Duxford airfield was assigned for United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) use in 1943 and assigned to the Eighth Air Force fighter command. On 1 December 1945, a few weeks after the departure of the 78th Fighter Group, Duxford was returned to the RAF. For the next sixteen years, Duxford remained an RAF Fighter Command station, although it was closed for two years from October 1949 to have a single concrete runway laid down. This, together with a new perimeter track and apron allowed for the better handling of jet aircraft with which Fighter Command was re-equipping.

Duxford reopened in August 1951. In 1957, 64 Squadron operated Gloster Javelins and 65 Squadron flew Hawker Hunters. These were the last two operational squadrons to fly from the airfield. Two years later, Duxford was chosen to provide the aircraft for the 1953 Coronation Flypast.

Duxford was too far south and too far inland to be strategically important and the costly improvements required for modern supersonic fighters could not be justified. In July 1961 the last operational RAF flight was made from Duxford by a Gloster Javelin FAW.7 jet fighter.

On 1 August 1961, a Gloster Meteor NF.14 made the last take off from the runway before Duxford closed as an RAF airfield and was abandoned.

In 1968 Duxford was used as one of the locations for the shooting of the film Battle of Britain. On 21 June and 22 June, one of the original World War I hangars was blown up in stages for the filming (without the concurrence of the Ministry of Defence) and the airfield was spectacularly filmed from the air in a realistic bombing sequence. Ironically this was the nearest Duxford came to being destroyed as no significant wartime German raids were carried out on the aerodrome. The French château, seen at the beginning of the film, was constructed on the south-west corner of the airfield.

In 1969 The Ministry of Defence declared its intention to dispose of Duxford. Plans were even made for a sports centre or a prison were but were never finalised. Today, RAF Duxford is owned by the Imperial War Museum and is the site of the Imperial War Museum Duxford, and the American Air Museum. The museum had been looking for a suitable site for the storage, restoration and eventual display of exhibits too large for its headquarters in London and obtained permission to use the airfield for this purpose.

Cambridgeshire County Council joined with the Imperial War Museum and the Duxford Aviation Society and in 1977 bought the runway to give the abandoned airfield a new lease of life. Also in 1977 the main runway was shortened from 6,000 ft (1,829 m) by about 1,200 ft (366 m) due to construction of the M11 motorway, which passes along the eastern side of the airfield. The final aircraft to land at Duxford before the runway was shortened was Concorde test aircraft G-AXDN, now on display in the Airspace hangar.

In October 2008, an agreement was reached between county council and the Imperial War Museum, under which the runways and 146 acres of surrounding grassland would be sold to the museum for approximately £1.6 million. The site is sometimes used by Formula One teams such as Renault and Lotus for testing.

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