RAF Brize Norton

RAF Brize Norton
Near Carterton, Oxfordshire in England

Transire Confidenter
Shown within Oxfordshire
Coordinates 51°45′00″N 001°35′01″W / 51.75000°N 1.58361°W / 51.75000; -1.58361Coordinates: 51°45′00″N 001°35′01″W / 51.75000°N 1.58361°W / 51.75000; -1.58361
Type Royal Air Force station
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Hub AirTanker
Website RAF Brize Norton
Site history
Built 1935 (1935)
In use 1937-Present
Garrison information
Group Captain Simon Edwards [1]
Airfield information
Identifiers IATA: BZZ, ICAO: EGVN
Elevation 88 metres (289 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
07/25 [2] 3,050 metres (10,007 ft) Asphalt

Royal Air Force Brize Norton or RAF Brize Norton (IATA: BZZ, ICAO: EGVN) in Oxfordshire, about 65 mi (105 km) west north-west of London, is the largest station of the Royal Air Force.[3] It is close to the settlements of Brize Norton, Carterton and Witney.

The station is home to Air Transport, Air-to-Air refuelling and Military Parachuting, with aircraft operating from the station including the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and Airbus A330 MRTT Voyager which replaced the now decommissioned Lockheed TriStar in March 2014.[4]

Major infrastructure redevelopment began in 2010 ahead of the closure of RAF Lyneham in 2012, at which point Brize Norton became the sole air point of embarkation for British troops.[5]

By the end of June 2011 all flying units from RAF Lyneham had moved to RAF Brize Norton.


An Armstrong Whitworth Whitley glider tug coming in to land between Airspeed Horsa gliders at RAF Brize Norton, October 1943

Royal Air Force

RAF Brize Norton was opened in 1937[6] as a training station, with No. 2 Flying Training School (2 FTS) transferring from RAF Digby on 7 September 1937.[7] On 10 October 1938, 2 FTS was joined by No. 6 Maintenance Unit.[8] The station was originally to be named RAF Carterton, given its proximity and relationship with the town of the same name, but was instead named RAF Brize Norton to avoid possible confusion with RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire.[9]

One of the first operational squadrons to use the airfield was No. 110 Squadron RAF which was mainly based at RAF Wattisham but a detachment used Brize Norton from June 1939 with the Bristol Blenheim Mks I and IV.[10] 2 FTS was renamed No 2 Service Training School (2 SFTS) in September 1939, when it re-equipped with the Airspeed Oxford. No 16 Service Training School, equipped with North American Harvards moved to Brize Norton in June 1940. On 16 August, the airfield was attacked by German bombers, with 35 Oxfords and 11 Hawker Hurricanes destroyed.[11] 16 SFTS left later that year, but 2 SFTS and 6 MU continued to use the airfield, with No. 1525 Beam Approach Training Flight moving there in February 1942.[8]

The 110 Squadron detachment left Brize Norton on 17 March 1942, when the squadron left for the Far East.[10] The two flying training units left on 16 July 1942 to make way for a new user, the Heavy Glider Conversion Unit, equipped with Whitley glider tugs and Horsa gliders.[8] 296 Squadron and 297 Squadron both moved in on 14 March 1944 with their Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles,[12] displacing the Heavy Glider Conversion Unit (HGCU), which moved to RAF North Luffenham. The two Squadrons took part in the Invasion of France on 6 June 1944 and Operation Market Garden in September 1944,[13] before 296 Squadron added the Handley Page Halifax V to their inventory and moved to RAF Earls Colne on 29 September 1944 and 297 Squadron moved to the same place a day later.[12]

The HGCU (soon renumbered 21 HGCU) returned on 15 October 1944, remaining at Brize Norton until 31 December 1945. The Transport Command Development Unit (TCDU) moved in in 1946, operating a variety of equipment until it moved out in June 1949.[14] 297 Squadron returned after the Second World War had ended, on 5 September 1946 with the Halifax Mks A.7 and A.9 from RAF Tarrant Rushton before leaving during the summer of 1947 on 21 August moving to RAF Fairford.[12] After the TCDU left in June 1949, 2 Squadron of the Central Flying School, equipped with Harvards, moved in, followed by No. 204 Advanced Flying School, equipped with de Havilland Mosquitos, staying at Brize Norton until March and June 1950 respectively.[15]

United States Air Force

By 1950 elements of Strategic Air Command (SAC) were based at RAF Lakenheath, RAF Marham, and RAF Sculthorpe. The increasing tension of the Cold War led to a re-evaluation of these deployments. By 1953 SAC bombers began to move further west, behind RAF fighter forces, to Brize Norton, RAF Greenham Common, RAF Upper Heyford, and RAF Fairford. As with the other stations it occupied, SAC invested heavily in extending the runway (6,000 to 9,000 ft (1,829 to 2,743 m)), taxiways and dispersals, as well as constructing accommodation and weapons handling facilities. This work was completed in April 1951.

The station was transferred from USAFE to SAC effective from 8 December 1952. 30th Air Depot Wing became the 3rd Air Force unit responsible for control of all personnel at Brize Norton, upon receipt of instructions to control base functions.[16] The station was assigned to the 7th Air Division and operated by the 3920th Air Base Group, which was renamed as the 3920th Combat Support Group, and then the 3920th Strategic Wing in 1964. The 3920th ceased operations in 1965.

The first major USAF deployment was that of 21 Convair B-36 Peacemaker strategic bombers of the 11th Bomb Wing for eight days in June 1952. Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the KB-29 tanker variant of the 301st Bombardment Wing were based at Brize Norton on temporary duty from December 1952 to April 1953.[15]

From September 1953, units equipped with the Boeing B-47E Stratojet six-engined bombers began to be deployed to Brize Norton on 90-day temporary deployments, with boom-equipped Boeing KC-97G Stratofreighters also being deployed in support from December 1954.[15] Brize Norton was closed for runway repairs in 1956.[15] B-47 Stratojets returned in July 1957. Later deployments included KC-97 and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker and the first Convair B-58 Hustler and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers to land in the United Kingdom.[17]

From 1958, B-47 deployments changed from 90-day temporary deployments to 30-day Reflex Alerts, in which the aircraft did little flying, but were held at a high degree of readiness (armed with nuclear bombs) on special aprons on the south side of the airbase.[18] In September 1964, the USAF announced that Reflex operations would cease and that Brize Norton would be handed back to the RAF. While the base was formally returned to the RAF on 1 April 1965, the last SAC aircraft, a B-47E of the 380th Bombardment Wing left the base on 3 April, while USAF personnel finally left on 31 May.[19]

Back to Royal Air Force control

RAF, RAAF and USAF C-17s and flight crews at RAF Brize Norton in June 2007

In 1965 the RAF returned to Brize Norton and both 10 Squadron, equipped with the Vickers VC10 C.1 jet transport[20] and 53 Squadron equipped with the Short Belfast C1 heavy lift turboprop freighter moved from RAF Fairford in May 1967.[21] As facilities at Brize Norton were still unfinished, they used RAF Lyneham as a passenger terminal until October 1968.[22]

In 1970 two squadrons 99 Squadron[23] and 511 Squadron operating the Bristol Britannia moved from RAF Lyneham. Both squadrons were disbanded in 1976,[24] along with 53 Squadron, operating the Short Belfast C1 heavy lift turboprop freighter.[21] In the same year, 115 Squadron moved from RAF Cottesmore operating the Hawker Siddeley Andover in the radar calibration role. The squadron moved to RAF Benson in 1983.[25]

A Vickers VC10 of No. 101 Squadron

101 Squadron reformed at Brize Norton on 1 May 1984,[26] 101 Squadron flew converted civil VC10s, heavily modified and updated by British Aerospace for military service as aerial refuelling tankers between 1983 and 1993. Of the 39 airline aircraft acquired by the RAF, 13 were converted, while the remainders were used for spare parts. These converted VC10s were all 3-point tankers; capable of refuelling one aircraft (typically another large aircraft) using the main hose or two smaller aircraft using the underwing pods. The variants were known as K.2, K.3 and K.4.

Following the Falklands War, the RAF found itself lacking in the strategic transport capabilities required to sustain the expanded military presence there. As a result, 216 Squadron was reformed at Brize Norton in November 1984,[27] initially flying six ex-British Airways TriStars, followed by three more from Pan-Am.

10 Squadron's VC10 C.1s were later modified with underwing AAR refuelling pods, and were redesignated On 14 October 2005, 10 Squadron was disbanded, the aircrew and aircraft were merged with 101 Squadron.

On 23 May 2001 the RAF's first C-17 arrived at Brize Norton, one of six to be delivered to 99 Squadron.

With the closure of RAF Lyneham taking place in late 2011, the repatriation of British personnel was relocated to Brize Norton on 8 September 2011. To accommodate the repatriation services, a purpose-built centre has been constructed,[28] and an exit gate has been refurbished, formally named the Britannia Gate.[29]

Programme of future Brize redevelopment

Lockheed TriStar at RAF Brize Norton, operating an air bridge flight to RAF Ascension Island

Brize Norton is already a major airbase for the RAF's transport fleet. However, the end of flying from RAF Lyneham in September 2011 will signal Brize Norton becoming the sole "Air Point of Embarkation", the main operating base for RAF air transport and in-air refuelling aircraft, and home to 15% of RAF uniformed manpower.[30] All the RAF's fixed wing transport assets will then be consolidated at Brize Norton, with the transfer of the entire Hercules force, together with the entry into service of the Airbus A400M and the Voyager.[31]

To accommodate this expansion (with the number of aircraft stationed at Brize Norton increasing from 28 to 67),[32] a major infrastructure redevelopment, "Programme Future Brize" was established in 2009. The project involves the overhaul of virtually every element of the airfield's infrastructure, including IT, engineering, housing and personnel.[33]

By March 2011, 70 buildings had been refurbished on the station.[34] As part of work to prepare for the introduction of Voyager aircraft into active service, a new hangar and office complex was opened in the same month.[35]

The Hercules fleet at RAF Lyneham officially moved to Brize Norton on 1 July 2011. The final four aircraft flew to the station, conducting a flypast over Wiltshire. Group Captain John Gladstone, Station Commander of RAF Lyneham, flew the lead Hercules, which carried the standards of the Hercules squadrons. These were presented to the Station Commander of RAF Brize Norton, Group Captain Dom Stamp in a welcoming ceremony.[36]


Like many UK military bases (e.g. RAF Fairford, Faslane Naval Base, RAF Lakenheath, and Menwith Hill) RAF Brize Norton has been subject to limited protests by peace demonstrators.

During the 2003 Iraq War four anti-war protesters managed to access the main runway in an attempt to prevent aircraft taking off.[37]

A peace camp was held at the station from 21 to 25 April 2005, along with a demonstration in nearby Carterton.[38]

On 12 August 2006, campaigners restricted access at the main entrance for several hours in a protest against British policy in the Middle East.[39]


The station is home to the Administrative Wing, Airport of Embarkation Wing, Depth Support Wing, Forward Support Wing and Operations Wing. Lodger units are the RAF Police, Joint Air Delivery Test and Evaluation Unit (JADTEU) - a tri-service unit that tests and evaluates air transportation methods, No.1 Parachute Training School RAF and No 1 Air Mobility Wing - An air combat support unit on high readiness to deploy specialist Movements personnel worldwide.

RAF Brize Norton Flying Club resides at the station providing low cost flying for MOD personnel and training to PPL level and above. Initially operating two Cherokee aircraft today, the fleet consists of two Piper Warriors painted in pseudo-"training black" (actually dark blue) to enhance visibility in line with RAF training aircraft policies.

AirTanker Services is operating the RAF's Airbus A330 MRTT (Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft) to provide aerial re-fuelling services at Brize Norton.

Squadrons and aircraft

The final four Hercules aircraft to have been based at RAF Lyneham en route to RAF Brize Norton on 1 July 2011

Flying Units

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

Hercules C.4 & C.5

A400M Atlas

Voyager KC2 & KC3

Other Units

Former operational RAF units and aircraft

See also



  1. "Welcome to Brize Norton". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  2. http://www.raf.mod.uk/rafbrizenorton/rafcms/mediafiles/74DD2CF9_5056_A318_A80C81800998A590.pdf
  3. "RAF Brize Norton". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  4. "TriStar Retires After 30 Years Service with the RAF". Royal Air Force. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  5. Hearn, Dan (4 February 2011). "RAF Brize Norton to double in size". This is Oxfordshire. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  6. "Brize Norton". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
  7. March 1982a, p. 269
  8. 1 2 3 March 1982a, p. 270
  9. "Brize Norton: Introduction | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
  10. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 55.
  11. Jenkins, Stanley C (2014). Oxfordshire At War Through Time. United Kingdom: Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445619460.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Jefford 1988, p. 84.
  13. March 1982a, pp. 270–271
  14. March 1982a, pp. 271–272
  15. 1 2 3 4 March 1982a, p. 272
  16. http://www.airforcehistoryindex.org/data/000/462/938.xml
  17. March 1982a, pp. 272–273
  18. March 1982a, p. 273, March 1982b, p. 320
  19. March 1982a, p. 273
  20. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 27
  21. 1 2 3 Jefford 1988, p. 42
  22. March 1982b, p. 320
  23. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 53.
  24. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 95.
  25. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 57.
  26. 1 2 Jefford 1988, p. 54.
  27. Jefford 1988, p. 71.
  28. Morris, Steven (8 September 2011). "RAF Brize Norton expects 2,000 people as military repatriations return". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 14 Sep 2011.
  29. "RAF Brize Norton ceremony marks Lyneham transfer". BBC News. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  30. "Brize Norton continues its evolution into main RAF hub". Ministry of Defence. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  31. Heath, Ashley (31 August 2010). "RAF Lyneham Closure Plan". BBC. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  32. "RAF Lyneham relocates to Brize Norton". BBC News. 1 July 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  33. "RAF Brize Norton - Programme Future Brize". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
  34. "Housing shortages at Brize Norton caused by funding constraints". BBC News. 9 March 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  35. "New hangar opens for tanker aircraft at RAF Brize Norton". BBC News. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  36. Mooney, Tom (1 July 2011). "Mixed emotions as Hercules leave RAF Lyneham". Gazette & Herald. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
  37. "Activists lay down on runway". War Resister's International. 1 March 2003. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  38. "Rowdy teens break peace at Brize camp". Oxford Mail. 30 April 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  39. "RAF Brize Norton blockaded". UK Indymedia. 12 August 2006. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  40. "XXIV Squadron". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  41. "30 Squadron". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  42. "47 Squadron". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  43. "RAF stands up first operational A400M squadron". JANES. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  44. "'B' Flight Number 206(R) Squadron". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  45. "10 Squadron". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  46. "101 Squadron". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  47. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Who is based here?". RAF. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  48. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/raf-units-return-from-cyprus


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