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RAF Merlin - a familiar sight at Abingdon in the 21st CenturyAbingdon's still alive!

Neil Porter looks at the history of this famous airfield and looks forward to the 2004 Fayre

RAF Abingdon was once one of the finest RAF stations in the country. It opened in 1932 and closed under the Conservative government's 'Options for Change' review in December 1992.

Abingdon changed roles three times in its sixty-year reign, being first a major Bomber Command training station in the late 1930s and war years, then part of Transport Command in the 1950s through to early 1970s, finally being a Support Command station from the early 1970s to December 1992.

Aircraft types over the years have ranged from Fairey Gordon and Hawker Hind Biplanes, Avro Ansons, Armstrong Siddeley Whitleys, NA Harvards, Avro Yorks, Blackburn Beverley's, Hawker Siddeley Andovers, Handley Page Hastings, Shorts Belfasts, De Havilland Chipmunks, BAE Hawks, BAE Buccaneers and Sepecat Jaguars, to name a few. Prestigious units were also here, such as No.1 PTS, JATE, Repair & Salvage Squadron (RSS), Aircraft Salvage & Transportation Flight (AS+TF). Major events were held at Abingdon, such as the RAF 50th anniversary Royal Review show in 1968, and many airshows - who cannot forget that 1990 show which incorporated the 168 mass aircraft flypast direct from Buckingham Place?

Vigilant T1 Today, Abingdon is still an MOD establishment but is split into two. The domestic site is behind a new perimeter fence which incorporates the hangars and is known as Dalton Barracks, home to 3 CS & 4 GS Regiments of the Royal Logistic Corps. The airfield, however, has never been dormant since its closure in December 1992, and although there is no permanent Air Traffic Control (the tower now boarded up), aircraft still utilise its runways.

Since 1992, RAF Benson has used Abingdon as a formal emergency diversion airfield and one of its main training grounds for the Helicopter force. The Wessexes of 60 Squadron were often in the Abingdon circuit making full use of the uncrowded airspace, whereby the 6 AEF Chipmunks and Oxford/London University Air Squadron Bulldogs (ironically all ex-Abingdon Squadrons!) would beetle around the Benson overhead.

Hercules on exerciseA major Military exercise took place in August 1993 codenamed Exercise 'Roaring Lion' - up to twenty C-130 Hercules were temporarily based at Abingdon, flying day and night sorties to and from Salisbury Plain, with a USAF C-130 and Chinook, Puma and Exercise Roaring LionScout helicopters also involved. This lasted for about two weeks, with Air Traffic Control being re-established and the airfield fully active once again - great stuff!!

RAF Benson continues to utilise Abingdon regularly with 28 Squadron Merlins and 33 Squadron Pumas often circuit bashing or undertaking the odd underslung load exercise, mostly in daylight hours, but night sorties do occur. There may often be a few days with no movements, but then you may get days with a fair amount of helicopter activity as Middle Wallop's Apaches now also use the airfield at times for training.

Parachuting sorties have also taken place over the last ten years with the jump platform being a C-130 Hercules, but more recently a Skyvan from Hunting Services. One of the Army regiments now has a parachute club so quite often in the summer months, it is not unusual to see an Islander used.

Miles Gemini The RAF still has a resident presence at Abingdon in the form of 612 VGS, flying Grob Vigilant Motorgliders. It has its own purpose-built HQ and hangar in the southern corner of the airfield, and flies most weekends teaching students the basics of flying through to advanced scholarships. If Halton has waterlogged runways over the winter then its unit, 613 VGS also flying the Grob Vigilant, temporarily moves into Abingdon. With ex-Air Chief Marshal John Allison basing his Miles Gemini in the VGS hangar, you can see it is by no means a dead airfield!

RAF Puma displaying in 2002Our air event, the annual Abingdon Fayre, is now a mini Airshow with a Country Fayre attached. It is growing and proving very popular, with various types of aircraft being invited to attend each year. The up and coming 2004 event is on Sunday 2 May - keep checking our website for the latest information on what'll be attending!

 

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