MoD Boscombe Down

MoD Boscombe Down
Airport type Military
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator QinetiQ
Location Amesbury, Wiltshire, England
Elevation AMSL 407 ft / 124 m
Coordinates 51°09′27″N 01°44′49″W / 51.15750°N 1.74694°W / 51.15750; -1.74694Coordinates: 51°09′27″N 01°44′49″W / 51.15750°N 1.74694°W / 51.15750; -1.74694

Location in Wiltshire

Direction Length Surface
m ft
05/23 3,212 10,538 Concrete/Asphalt
17/35 1,914 6,280 Concrete/Asphalt
Radio: Boscombe Down Talk Down - 130.00 (Mhz), Approach/Zone - 126.70 (Mhz), Tower - 130.75 (Mhz)

MoD Boscombe Down (ICAO: EGDM) is an aircraft testing site located at Amesbury in Wiltshire, England. It is run and managed by QinetiQ, the company created as part of the breakup of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in 2001 by the UK Ministry of Defence. It is the home of the Empire Test Pilots' School.

The site was formerly known as RAF Boscombe Down and since 1939 has evaluated aircraft for the British armed forces.


The following squadrons were based here between 1930 and 1939:

Aircraft testing at the airfield started when the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) moved from RAF Martlesham Heath in August 1939, as the Second World War hostilities commenced, when the airfield was known as RAF Boscombe Down.[12]

The site has witnessed many significant developments in the British aviation industry, including trials of many aircraft flown by the British armed forces since the Second World War, such as the first flights of the English Electric P 1, forerunner of the English Electric Lightning, the Folland Gnat and Midge, Hawker P.1067 (the prototype Hunter), Westland Wyvern and the BAC TSR.2. It was also formerly home to the School of Aviation Medicine.

In 1992 the site was renamed the Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment when experimental work moved to the Defence Research Agency. Responsibility for the site passed from the MoD Procurement Executive to the Defence Test and Evaluation Organisation (DTEO) in 1993, and subsequently to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in 1995.

Following the creation of QinetiQ in 2001, a 25-year Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) was established with the MOD. Boscombe Down remains a government airfield but operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the MOD. The Joint Test and Evaluation Group was established under the control of RAF Air Command and together with QinetiQ forms the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC). This unique partnership is charged with the test and evaluation of future and in-service military aircraft. The military personnel of the JTEG play a central role in the test and evaluation process alongside their QinetiQ colleagues.

A small part of Boscombe's history is being preserved in the US. The Anglo American Lightning Organisation are returning to flight the former ETPS English Electric Lightning, XS422. The group is basing the restoration in the US as the CAA is expected to refuse permission for the aircraft to fly in the UK. The voluntary group, made up of RAF and former-RAF engineers, as well as civilian volunteers, has been carrying out a 'floor-up' restoration and as of spring 2008 were around 80% mechanically complete. The project is currently seeking investors and supporters.[16]

The following units were here at some point:[17]

  • No. 4 Group Experimental Flight
  • No. 13 Joint Services Trials Unit
  • No. 22 Joint Services Trials Unit
  • No. 29 Joint Services Trials Unit
  • No. 75 (Bomber) Wing RAF
  • No. 2780 Squadron RAF Regiment
  • No. 2786 Squadron RAF Regiment
  • Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment
  • Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment RAF
  • Aircraft Gun Mounting Establishment RAF
  • Assessment and Evaluation Centre RAF
  • Blind Approach Training and Development Unit RAF
  • Bomber Development Unit RAF
  • Handling Flight RAF
  • Handling Squadron RAF
  • High Altitude Flight (A&AEE)
  • Intensive Flying Development Flight RAF
  • Intensive Flying Development Unit
  • Meteorological Research Flight RAF
  • RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine Flight
  • Special Duties Flight RAF
  • Strike/Attack Operational Evaluation Unit RAF
  • Tornado Operational Evaluation Unit RAF
  • Wireless (Intelligence) Development Unit RAF

Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron

The Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron at MoD Boscombe Down was responsible for the flight testing of heavy aircraft (Multi-engine types). Prior to the title of Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron (HATS) the flight testing of multi-engined aircraft was conducted by 'B Squadron'. Following-on from B Squadron, the department became known as Fixed Wing Test Squadron; however, during the late 1980s, the title once more changed to that of the Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron.

On 16 June 2009, HATS formally handed over its flight testing duties to the newly re-formed 206(R) Squadron, which forms part of the Air Warfare Centre.


The site has two runways, one of 3,212 m (10,538 ft) in length and the second 1,914 m (6,280 ft). It is home to Rotary Wing Test Squadron, Fast Jet Test Squadron, Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron, Handling Squadron, and the Empire Test Pilots' School.[18] It is also currently home to the Southampton University Air Squadron.[19]

Boscombe Down has been associated with rumours concerning U.S. black projects. An incident is reported to have occurred there on 26 September 1994, although evidence is scarce, and both the British and American Governments have refused to comment on it.[20][21] According to witnesses an aircraft crashed on landing due to nosewheel collapse. The SAS were scrambled to set up a perimeter around the airbase and a C-130 was redirected to the base. It is speculated that the crashed plane was disassembled and carried back to the US by the C-130. It was also speculated that the crashed aircraft may have been the Lockheed ASTRA AV-6.[22]

In October 2007 it was announced that RAF Boscombe Down would become a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) airfield from early 2008, offering round-the-clock fighter coverage for the South and South West of UK airspace.[23]

A well preserved Roman coffin was found to the west of the site in 2007, on what is now the 'Archers Gate' development.[24]



  1. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 27.
  2. Jefford 1988, p. 41.
  3. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 43.
  4. Jefford 1988, p. 48.
  5. Jefford 1988, p. 51.
  6. Jefford 1988, p. 53.
  7. Jefford 1988, p. 62.
  8. Jefford 1988, p. 64.
  9. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 71.
  10. Jefford 1988, p. 72.
  11. Jefford 1988, p. 73.
  12. "Site History". UCL Adastral Park Post Graduate Campus. Archived from the original on 2007-08-10. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
  13. Jefford 1988, p. 37.
  14. Jefford 1988, p. 55.
  15. Jefford 1988, p. 78.
  16. "Anglo American Lightning Organisation". UK. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  17. "Boscombe Down (Red House Farm)". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  18. "Empire Test Pilot School contact information". QinetiQ. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  19. "Southampton University Air Squadron". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  20. "RAF Boscombe Down's Black Day". Retrieved 2008-09-14.
  21. Bellamy, Christopher; Walker, Timothy (14 March 1997). "Secret US spyplane crash may be kept under wraps". The Independent. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  22. "STEALTH". Key Publishing Air Forces Monthly. 10 June 2016.
  23. Air base in front line fully-armed - Salisbury Journal, Monday 29 October 2007
  24. "Video of the Boscombe Down Roman coffin". Wessex Archaeology. 14 January 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-30.


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