The need for the replacement of pilots lost on the Western Front, led to the formation of Reserve Squadrons which were soon to be re-designated in 1917 as Training Squadrons. Some were established on existing aerodromes, but the bulk were new stations which for the first time, were designed on a standard layout. From June 1918, their aerodromes were known as Training Depot Stations (TDS).
The TDSs became the main RFC/RAF instructional flying unit and normally functioned as a finishing school for qualified pilots specialising in a particular function. Upper Heyford was planned as a TDS but opened as a three-squadron mobilisation station. TDSs were normally built in pairs known as a Wing and with the TDS at Bicester located nearby, its quite likely that if the war had continued beyond November 1918, that Bicester and Upper Heyford would have formed a Wing for fighter reconnaissance training.
The maximum dimensions of the aerodrome at Upper Heyford were 1,200yds by 950yds and covered and area of 267 acres, of which 46 acres were taken up with station buildings. The official 1918 site plans were drawn by Percival E Southwood at the London office of Air Ministry Works and Buildings. The type, layout and quantity of camp buildings were typical of Training Depot Stations built during 1917/18, but the planning of Upper Heyford was based on two compact groups, set out as a 'V' with one arm forming the technical area and the other representing the domestic group. A purpose-built Air Ministry road connected the site with the main Oxford to Brackley road.
Three pairs of general service aeroplane sheds (hangars) were provided (one for each flight) and a single shed, known as the aeroplane repair section (ARS). A pair of coupled sheds were separated from it neighbouring sheds by a hard-surface apron. Each flight hangar consisted of a brick-built end-opening coupled shed of 15-bays with buttresses supporting 100ft span Belfast roof girders. Doors at either end opened full width and were of the new Esavian 120 teak folding type. The ARS shed of similar construction (but only single span), had in addition, two annexes built against a side elevation, these being plane stores for housing large aircraft components.
In wet weather, the grass surface became very soft. To prevent aeroplanes from being bogged down under these conditions, two cinder tracks (with a length of 900ft and 450ft) were laid down. These gave access to the landing area (from different directions) from the shed aprons to the landing area.
Immediately behind the row of aeroplane sheds were groups of single-storey technical accommodation that corresponded with the ARS, technical or instructional functions. These included separate workshops for wood and metal (ARS), motor transport sheds & yard, power-house, offices (technical) and various instructional huts.
Living accommodation was separated from the technical buildings and consisted of three sub-groups of huts forming, a women's hostel (nearest to the technical area), an officers' mess & quarters group (separating the women from the men) and a group forming the men's quarters consisting of barrack huts, ablutions and a regimental institute . As a mobilisation station, only 51 personnel were part of the station establishment, the rest being made up by members of the mobilising squadrons.
Station Establishment for 1918:
Officers 3 Rank & File 21
NCOs 2 Women 13
Corporals 4 Women (household) 8
Upper Heyford was not on the list of permanent RAF stations (the newly-formed Air Ministry owned the buildings, not the land). After closure, the land was handed back to the original landlords, the buildings were sold at auction and the majority were eventually removed.
A change in the defensive structure was introduced in January 1925, known as the Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB). Leading up to this scheme during November 1923, Trenchard proposed a 52-squadron scheme, with bomber squadrons outnumbering fighter by more than two to one. He proposed a mixture of regular personnel, auxiliaries and special reserve units. New bomber stations were to be built in Oxfordshire. This cluster was to consist of five stations for a total of eight regular bomber squadrons with provision for a further six auxiliary squadrons (in the event of another war). Sites under investigation were Bicester, Cherwell, Harwell, Stanton Harcourt North, Stanton Harcourt South, Upper Heyford, Wallingford and Weston-on-the-Green. All other sites were kept in reserve except Stanton Harcourt North which was abandoned while Harwell, was chosen for development for one regular and two special reserve squadrons.
It was also decided to proceed with Bicester and Upper Heyford for development, but there were objections. Mr Leigh of Manor House, Stratton Audley objected to Bicester as aircraft noise would interfere with his stud farm. Lord Jersey of Middleton Hall (Lord Lieutenant of the county) objected to Upper Heyford and Weston-on-the-Green. Just before he died around Christmas 1924, he accepted that Upper Heyford could become an aerodrome but still objected to Weston-on-the-Green.
The decision was then taken to abandon Weston-on-the-Green and Harwell (for the time being) and that the third Oxfordshire bomber station should be Abingdon instead. As a result of the 123rd meeting of the RAF Building Committee (held on 20 July 1925), Abingdon was to be a two, single-engined squadron station (in peace and war) and having one special reserve squadron (in war) .
At Upper Heyford only two structures remained in the autumn of 1923 from the WW1 aerodrome, a small hut and the machine-gun range (the MG range being incorporated into the planning for the new station). Demolition had been thorough with roads having been broken up, water pipes and even sewer pipes had been carted away
While Upper Heyford, was between 1926-1927, fully developed as a three-squadron immobile bomber station with six hangars, a change of plan took place while building work was still in progress at Bicester and the fighter station at North Weald. The financial situation in early 1926, for the expansion of the RAF, was now so acute, that the cost of running a squadron at home had to be reduced. This had the effect that a reduction was made to limit the number of aircraft in a squadron from eighteen to twelve. Consequently, the number of hangars at North Weald and Bicester were now reduced and both sites ended up with just two each.
The new landing ground at Upper Heyford was established first of all within the original World War One boundary which (in 1924) was roughly divided up into two main land owners.
The northern half (field Nos. 97, 98, 99 & 100) consisting of 124 acres, was owned by Edmund Greaves who sold his land to the Air Ministry on 10 January 1925 for £4,020. The Warden and the Fellows of New College, Oxford, owned the bulk of the southern half (field Nos. 107, 108 & 109). This land covering an area of 105.964 acres, had previously been leased to tenant farmer, Mr. WH Warland who agreed to surrender his lease. Completion took place on 29 September 1924 for a sum of £2,388.
Small pockets of land was also required to complete the aerodrome:
Field No. 128, north of Field Barn was owned by St Mary College of Winchester in Oxford (now known as New College), consisted of 35.125 acres, was sold to the Air Ministry for £1,141.10.0 on 29 September 1924. The college retained a right of way.
An 'L'-shaped area of land bordering Gorse Covert covering 24.5 acres, owned by Bertram Saville Ogle of Steeple Aston, was sold to the Air Ministry on 18 July 1924 for £908.13.0.
Field No. 110 owned by Henry Hillier of Leys Farm, Upper Heyford, consisting of just over 6 acres was sold on 5 January 1925 for £215.
The English Forestry Association of The Knowle Nurseries, Caversham Heights, Reading, were awarded a contract for clearing new saplings from Gorse Covert. This area was required for a new machine-gun range and aviation petrol installation.
In the centre of the aerodrome, a 150ft diameter chalk landing circle was cut into the grass surface to indicate to pilots in the air, the centre of the airfield. Two bombing targets (for practice bombing) were positioned, one on the north boundary, and the other close to the landing circle.
Under the Defence Act of 1842 (a compulsory acquisition of land order), a number of fields were acquired south of the public highway. Originally forming part of Ley's Farm, this area became the domestic site. The arrangement of having domestic buildings separated from the technical area by a public highway was, for security reasons, unsatisfactory in the eyes of the RAF Building Committee, but was accepted on grounds of limited funds. Land was also reserved for an Air Ministry railway, which would have been used to bring in coal, munitions and stores, but the railway was never constructed.
Building Construction 1925-1927
The new aerodrome was designed from the beginning to accommodate three regular squadrons. Layout was on the dispersal principle and included six (two for each squadron) of the first permanent end-opening hangars of the interwar period - the Type 'A' aeroplane shed. A new range of single and two-storey permanent buildings were designed and built and these became standard type designs for all subsequent stations either new or existing between 1925 and 1934. Some building types had not been seen before and these included operations block, parachute store and watch office. Other structures such as engine test house, main stores, main workshops and inflammables store were all larger in size than those built at two squadron stations. The watch office for the duty pilot (built here to 2072/26), was a small bungalow type building with a bay window on the aerodrome elevation. In 1929 a flare trolley shelter was added to a side elevation to garage the flare path trolley, this was used at night to carry flares out onto the aerodrome. These were laid out in the shape of a 250yd long landing 'T' to indicate to pilots, the landing ground.
For the first time on operational RAF stations, two-storey barrack blocks, each with their own sanitary accommodation were introduced and five examples were initially built here (Type 'C') and a sixth (Type 'B') added in 1937. Other domestic buildings not seen before included married quarters, consisting of detached and semi-detached houses for officers and rows of terraced housing for airmen. Barrack blocks, dining room & cookhouse, institute, Sergeants's mess and station sick quarters, were arranged in a grid pattern built around a parade ground. Built away from the main domestic area and on the same side of the public highway as the technical buildings, the officers' mess and single officers' quarters and their married quarters were all built with landscaped gardens and lawns. The importance of this bomber station (being the closest to London and Oxford) was reflected in the style and size of the officers' mess, this elegant building designed on a grand scale is larger than that built on other contemporary operational RAF stations.
RAF Expansion Period 1935-1939
Rearmament plans were announced by Parliament in November 1933 and with it, the expansion of the RAF. A number of schemes were formulated between 1934 and 1939 but only five were passed by the Cabinet ('A', 'C', 'F', 'L', and 'M'). Under Schemes 'A' 'C' and 'F', new petrol tanker sheds were built between hangars 1-2, and 5-6. Also unsatisfactory accommodation became the subject for modernisation, for example, in 1937, the station armoury had a new two-storey annexe built onto a side elevation, creating a building 'T'-shaped in plan. The old airmen's dining room & cookhouse was also extended to become a barrack block. Under Schemes 'L' and 'M', the final pre-war additional technical and domestic buildings were built here. Technical buildings included a 2-bay Link trainer and gas defence store. The majority of new structures were however, constructed on the domestic site, many of these were not completed until war was declared and were as follows:
Airmen's dining room & institute
Annexe to station sick quarters
Central heating station
Barrack blocks (3)
The construction of a new combined dining room & institute for airmen meant that their original Institute could now function as a Sergeants's mess and the original Sergeants's mess became a quarters block for single Sergeants.
1940 - 1945
At the beginning of the war, the Air Ministry began setting up military area control centres on parent RAF stations to control en-route air traffic. A specially designed Watch Office with Meteorological Section (518/40) was built here and an RAF Regional Control Organisation (Type 1 Station) was established with a 24 hour watch.
Meanwhile, a further four fields had been requisitioned north of the WW1 aerodrome boundary and three fields were taken from North Leys Farm on the east boundary. When war was declared on 3 September 1939, work had already began on a bomb storage area, perimeter track, air-raid shelters, blast shelters and eight airfield defence gun positions.
The construction of a perimeter track around the edge of the all-grass landing ground provided a maximum take-off length of just 1,200yds, only a third of that required in 1944. Further tracks and loops were built with circular hardstandings, and one of these twice crossed the public highway.
In the winter of 1943/44 John Laing and Son Ltd commenced work on the construction of three concrete runways, which were built over and above the Class 'A' standard. Under this standard, it was normal to provide a main runway of 2,000yds long (50yds wide) and two subsidiaries of 1,400yds. Here, these figures were exceeded whereby both subsidiaries were substantially longer than normal. Runway 03-21 was 1,700yds long, Runway 14-32 measured 1,550yds and Runway 09-27 had the standard length of 2,000yds. To achieve this, it was necessary to yet again extend the airfield boundary further north and east. One casualty of runway construction was the loss of the bomb storage area which had only just been extended in 1942. With the runways now completed and connected together by the perimeter track, it now left truncated stretches of the original perimeter and dispersal tracks still functioning but in the middle of the airfield. Bomb storage facilities were not rebuilt here until after the war. To supplement existing circular type aircraft hardstandings, two sets of a new type, known as 'spectacle' aircraft hardstandings were constructed along the east and west sections of perimeter track.
The Cold War
In 1948, four airfields were required by USAF for B-29 bombers, Fairford and Upper Heyford were both surveyed and found to be excellent. It was initially proposed to construct a 200ft wide and 8,000ft long runway, build a new hangar site, a bomb storage area on land belonging to Ashgrove Farm and construct aircraft hardstandings for 45 B-29 aircraft. Domestic accommodation was also required for 4,000 other ranks and to erect a military hospital at Middleton Stoney. The extensions required 350 acres mainly being part of Ashgrove Farm, but also the demolition of a barn and bungalow and the closure of two minor roads.
The USAF army engineers began to arrive during July 1950, consisting of the 801st and 817th Engineer Aviation Battalions whose task it was to strengthen and widen the existing main runway and to extend it further east. British contractors were Higgs & Hill Ltd and Wimpy, but these two companies were mainly responsible for erecting new buildings.
Runway 09-27 was widened by 26ft either side, and lengthened to 8,300ft. A new taxiway was constructed called Southern Taxiway, to straighten the section in front of the hangar area and also extended eastwards to link up with a new Runway 27 threshold. To complete this, the existing watch office (518/40) was demolished and new control tower built further north. Hardstandings were constructed with access from the new Southern Taxiway and 'warm up' aprons built at either end.
In 1953 Runway 09-27 was again extended, this time to its final length of 9,604ft.
Around 1970 construction started on the first 'Victor Alert' dispersals which included the floors for nine aircraft shelters.
Between 1973 and 1975, a new Northern Parallel Taxiway was constructed from the eastern end of Runway 09-27 to Runway 03-21.
Between 1977-79 a major works programme was started which included the erection of hardened aircraft shelters on the southern side of the airfield, together with the provision of their associated thresholds and aprons. The first four hardened aircraft shelters were built to the north of Runway 09-27.
1979-1980, the earlier major works programme was continued on the northern side of the airfield with the erection of hardened aircraft shelters and their thresholds and aprons were constructed by John Laing & Sons Ltd. The Northern Parallel Taxiway was widened and extended beyond Runway 03-21 to join up with the new Victor Alert dispersals.