I recently organised a Visit to the former RAF Upper Heyford, and on 

the 5th July three members of Subterranea Britannica 

(Dan McKenzie, Nick Catford and Tony Page)

 visited this former American air base in Oxfordshire.

 This is the trip report, written by Nick Catford.


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Some of the fantastic murals found on the site, this one was removed piece by piece and relocated
into the station headquarters, the original artist flew in from the states to make some small repairs to it.


More photo's further down the page


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Ordnance Survey map of the Base

Official USAF Flight line map of runways, hardened shelters and taxiways



The base was originally opened during the first World War and after the 2nd
war, when it was no longer required it was leased to the United States
Airforce  remaining operational until the end of 1993 when it was handed
back to the RAF. It remained in care and maintenance for several years and
although still technically owned by the MOD, the airfield side has been
converted into a large industrial estate, Heyford Park, while much of the
domestic side is in mothballs awaiting future development. 300 houses on
this side have however been sold and this part of the base is open and
easily accessible.

The base was originally opened during World War I, but not transferred to
USAF control until the early 1950s. It was initially an SAC base housing
rotational stateside-based B-47 aircraft, commencing with the 22nd
Bombardment Wing from March Airforce Base in December 1953. Other units
rotated to Upper Heyford until 1958 when the Reflex Action system was
introduced, with wings deploying small quantities of aircraft for three-week
periods instead of whole wings for months at a time.

The 20th Tactical Fighter Wing relocated from RAF Wethersfield to RAF Upper
Heyford on 1 June 1970. For the first time since it left Virginia in 1952,
all three of its flying squadrons were united on one base. Less than three
months later, the wing began converting to a new aircraft - the General
Dynamics F-111E Aardvark. On 12 September 1970, the first two F-111Es
arrived at RAF Upper Heyford. The 20th  Tactical Fighter Wing participated
in F-111 NATO and US unilateral operations Shabaz, Display Determination,
Cold Fire, Ocean Safari, Datex, Priory, Reforger, Dawn Patrol, Highwood,
Hammer, and others from January 1972 to October 1993.

The wing gained a fourth flying squadron on 1 July 1983, with the activation
of the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron. On February 1984, the first Grumman
(General Dynamics) EF-111A Ravens of that squadron arrived at Upper Heyford.

Following the end of the cold war, the base was quickly wound down with the
last of the fighter squadrons, the 55th, inactivated on 15 October 1993 and
the last of the wing's three aircraft departed from Upper Heyford on 7
December 1993.

RAF Upper Heyford is a mixture of buildings, some dating from the 1930's but
the most prominent feature are the 56 hardened aircraft shelters scattered
all over the base. These originally housed two F-111's each but for safety
reasons this was later reduced to 1. With so many buildings on the site,
there has, as yet, been little or no demolition we were only able to see in
detail a small selection of the buildings although much is visible by
driving round the perimeter road. Within the base compound there is an inner
compound where thousands of new cars are stored on the main runway and
wherever there is room for them. The vast quantity of unsold cars has become
an embarrassment and we were unable to enter this area which contains the
control tower. Most of the interesting buildings however were located in the
outer compound and we were able to visit a number of these.

The first building on our tour was the hardened command centre which is in
surprisingly good condition, with much of its equipment remaining. This is a
rectangular windowless concrete blockhouse. Outside the entrance their is a
shower for initial decontamination before entering the bunker. Once inside
the door there is a small lobby area and then a substantial blast door
leading into the bunker proper. From here there is a clean route into the
bunker or a dirty route which goes through a decontamination area containing
showers and disposal chutes for clothes. A spine corridor runs through the
length of the building, much of the left hand side is taken up with the
ventilation and filtration plant which is all in good order while on the
right hand side are two telephone exchanges. The first is the BT exchange
which still contains most of its equipment including several large floor
standing cabinets. Beyond this is the American Autovon exchange which has
been partially stripped although some cabinets and switching frames are
still in place. Beyond the telephone exchanges is a metal barred gate giving
access to the control area. This consists of a sunken well with a higher
level overlooking it. Overlooking that are two rooms, one on either side of
the corridor with windows looking down into the control room. All these
rooms still contain much of their equipment, telephones, consoles, display
screens etc.  Because of its complete state English Heritage are keen to
list or schedule this building (as opposed to that at RAF Alconbury which is
not so complete) and it is possible that it will eventually be opened as a

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The command Centre, in excellent condition.

The site owners intend to turn it into a museum.

Close to the command centre is the hardened BT  telephone exchange which
handled all the telephone traffic into and out of the base. This is another
windowless rectangular blockhouse with a blast protected entrance. As this
building is still used by BT we were unable to get access but our guide told
us it only contains a small switching frame.


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Our next port of call was perhaps the most impressive building on the base,
the massive building 299 the Avionics facility where electronic data from spy

planes was down loaded. This bunker is the closest to being underground being

semi sunken and partially mounded over with soil and  grass covered. We entered
through a very heavy blast door in a blast protected sunken open walkway.
There are two such blast doors, one gives access directly to the main spine
corridor but this is now wet so we used the other door which goes through
the plant room. Again all the filtration and ventilation plant is intact and
in good order. The bunker houses a number of vast rooms mostly rectangular
but one 'L' shaped. All these rooms have been completely stripped apart from
one small room which contains several electrical cabinets and what are
presumably the control consoles for the bunker. Some of the walls have
typical USAF wall art including an impressive painting of a raven.


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Building 299 
The Avionics Facility
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We drove on to look at one of the two bomb stores which are housed within
their own secure compounds. We were unable to gain access as they are both
used as  fireworks stores, but we were able to se the layout through the
fence. They consist of several parallel rows of large earth/grass mounded

Each of the Squadrons within the 20th  Tactical Fighter Wing  had its own
headquarters, spread around the base these each consist of prefabricated
buildings containing offices, canteen, recreation area, briefing room etc
leading into a hardened blockhouse at one end. We visited the 55th and 77th
Squadron HQ but only went inside the 77th as they are both identical. The
building is currently derelict and in a poor state of repair with ceiling
tiles littering the floor. The building has been totally stripped. At one
end the main corridor leads into the hardened area through a dog leg and a
blast door. Again there are two routes into the bunker, one clean and one
dirty where the decontamination is similar to the command centre. This gives
access to a main reception area where there is a large counter. All the
rooms in the bunker are empty apart from the plant room which is intact and
in good order. Alongside the 55th Squadron HQ is a gate into the inner
compound with a heavily defended guardroom with a pillbox on the top. There
are also a number of WW2 hangers that are now used by Thames Valley Police
for training.


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A couple of view's of the HAS area

Having spent three hours at the base this was a now the end of our tour
although we did take a look at the domestic side. The multi million pound
hospital lies empty and disused despite repeated efforts to find a buyer, it
seems likely that this will now be demolished along with the supermarket
alongside. A smaller supermarket (shopette) has been renovated and reopened
for the local community. The petrol station is currently derelict but this
may be reopened as the 'new town' develops. It is a vast site and the
development plan includes the demolition of a large number of the buildings
including most of the hardened aircraft hangers. There are plans to build
1000+ houses on the site so it will indeed become a town.


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The Garage, Bx and the Hostpital


For a detailed history of the 20th Tactical Fighter wing see the RAF Upper
Heyford Memorial web site at http://www.raf-upper-heyford.org/