Navigator



When the Air Ministry entered into its Expansion Scheme in the latter half of the 1930s, it was realised that there would have to be several new airfields built to house aircraft storage and maintenance depots to cater for the thousands of new aircraft on order. The most suitable location for these stations would be towards the western side of Britain so as to be less likely to attack from the enemy.

A site for was found to the west of Lyneham and contractors commenced its construction in early 1939. By this time a policy of housing flying training establishments alongside the storage units had been taken, consequently Lyneham had a mixture of four large ‘J’ type hangars and several groups of ‘K’ and ‘L’ aircraft storage hangars, these latter dispersed well away from the main technical site. Initially only a perimeter track was laid and it was 1942 before the three concrete runways were provided.

The station opened under the control of No.40 Group, Maintenance Command, on the 18th of May 1940 with the arrival of No.33 Maintenance Unit whose role was the storage and maintenance of aircraft leaving the factories prior to re-issuing them to units of the RAF. It handled quite a variety of types such as Blenheims, Tiger Moths, Lysanders, and Wellingtons etc., but seemed to specialise in Spitfires, with over 250 in stock by 1943. An additional task in 1944 was the assembly of large Hamilcar troop carrying gliders.

Back in August 1941 control of the station passed to No.23 Group of Flying Training Command, with the resident M.U becoming a lodger. It became the home of No.14 (Service) Flying Training School ex Cranfield, who operated a large fleet of Airspeed Oxfords. The role was the advanced pilot training on twin engined aircraft, a task that continued until the school left for Ossington in Nottinghamshire on the 21st of January 1942.

On the 14th of February 1942, Lyneham became part of the new No.44 Group, Maintenance Command. During March and April the Ferry Training Unit and No.1425 Flight arrived from Honeybourne. The former trained ferry crews to ferry aircraft abroad, using mainly Blenheims and Wellington aircraft. The latter Flight transported military personnel and V.I.Ps to our overseas stations and was issued with the first American built Liberator four engine aircraft to enter the R.A.F.

Other small Ferry Flights arrived later in 1942 but these formed into No.301 Ferry Training Unit in November, by then flying a mixture of Hudsons, Beauforts, Beaufighters, Wellingtons and Halifaxes. It continued to train crews and to ferry these type of aircraft abroad until transferring to Pershore on the 16th of March 1944.

In the meantime No.1425 Flight had increased its number of Liberator aircraft and was providing a regular service to the Middle East. In October 1942 it was retitled No.511 Squadron and thus became the first of many transport squadrons to find Lyneham their home over the following thirty years, where the station has served as the main R.A.F transport terminal for overseas flights by the military.

Mention must also be made to B.O.A.C who still operated a limited airline service during wartime. From March 1943 to April 1945 their No.1369 V.I.P. Flight also operated Liberators out of Lyneham .

In February 1944 a second transport squadron (No.525) moved in alongside No.511. This was equipped with chiefly Warwicks but only ventured as far as Gibralta and Tunisia. It remained here until moving to Membury on the 15th of July 1945.

The transportation of both service personnel and military V.I.Ps remained the main role played by the Lyneham squadrons from 1942 to well into the post war years. At the end of the war No.511 Squadron received a mixture of Dakotas, Yorks and Lancastrians, and these were the main types in use at Lyneham until 1949.

Other units to be based here were 1409 Met Flight from Oct 1945 to May 1946, flying Mosquitoes for gathering met information, and No.1389 V.I.P Flight with Lancastrians and Yorks from Dec 1945 to Feb 1946.

By 1950 it was the Handley Page Hastings that was the air transport workhorse and early in the decade the station was very busy due to the Korean conflict, when three squadrons, Nos 53, 99, and 511 were in residence. All operated the lumbering Hastings, spending much of their time in transiting to and from overseas stations.

In 1956 Lyneham entered into the jet age when one of the resident squadrons (No.216) exchanged its old Velletas for the Comet airliner, and thus became the first military transport squadron in the world to operate jets. These aircraft could perform flights to the Far East, carrying both troops and Military or Government officials.

Towards the end of the 1960s the Britannia ('Whispering Giant') began to replace the Hastings, so throughout most of that decade the strength of aircraft at Lyneham were some 20 Britannias and nine Comets. Most flights were to Hong Kong and Singapore, staging through Malta and Cyprus.

Several significant changes occurred in 1967, firstly a new modern terminal was built, together with an officers mess, which took over from the old wartime buildings. Secondly the squadrons started to convert on to American built C130 Hercules aircraft. Thirdly the original residents, No.33 Aircraft Storage M.U finally closed, its services no longer required by the shrinking R.A.F.

After handling up to 10,000 passengers a month at its peak, the R.A.F Air Transport Terminal facility was transferred to Brize Norton in 1972, but Lynham still remained occupied by transport squadrons. Thereafter these dealt with carrying army troops, paratroops, and freight, as opposed to general military and VIP passengers. This commitment involved flights around Britain as well as to our few remaining overseas outposts.

At the time of writing in 1998 Lynham is one of only two airfields left involved with air transport, a sad reflection of the demise of the R.A.F.  Currently it is known as the Tactical Transport Station where there are four squadrons equipped with C130 Hercules based here, plus the Hercules Operational Training Unit that arrived from Thorney Island way back in 1975