RAF Benson - History


Building work for RAF Benson began in 1937. RAF Benson was officially opened on Saturday 1 April 1939 and its first aircraft were two squadrons of Fairey Battle light bombers which began to arrive a few days later. No. 103 Squadron RAF started flying in on 3 April 1939, to be joined in the next few months by No. 150 Squadron RAF.

The Battles were replaced in December 1940 with Vickers Wellington medium bombers. At the same time the Spitfires of No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAF an RAF Coastal Command unit arrived. It gained considerable fame as the home of photographic reconnaissance for the remainder of World War II. In June 1943, No 1 PRU was formed into No 106 Wing, with five squadrons (No’s 540 to 544 inclusive) and an Operational Training Unit. The Wing was elevated to the status of No 106 (PU) Group in April 1944, with two Mosquito and two Spitfire Squadrons (No 543 Squadron having been disbanded when the aircraft strength per Squadron was increased). The No 106 Group was assigned to the Coastal Command's Photo Reconnaissance assets with the whole of Northern Europe as its operational area.

Its Supermarine Spitfire and de Havilland Mosquito aircraft flew missions over occupied Europe, for example bringing back battle damage assessment pictures after Operation Chastise. This period of the station's history is reflected in the use of a full-scale replica of a wartime Spitfire PR.Mk XI on the main gate - this having replaced a genuine Spitfire PR.MK XIX that has been restored to flying status. Vera Lynn, 'the forces Sweetheart', visited RAF Benson to entertain the troops, reportedly singing "The White Cliffs of Dover" at the station.

The station retained a reconnaisance role for some years after the war, with Avro Lancaster, Spitfire, Mosquito, Gloster Meteor PR.Mk 10 and English Electric Canberra PR.Mk 3 aircraft.

On 1 June 1962 No. 105 Squadron RAF reformed at the station, flying Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosys as part of the RAF Transport Command fleet. In January 1968, 114 and 267 Squadrons were flying Argosys as a Wing on the station.

The King's Flight moved from RAF Hendon and would stay (renamed as the Queen's Flight after the death of King George VI) until after the war, moving to RAF Northolt in 1995.

The station is today the home to four squadrons of Support Helicopters, 28 Squadron, 78 Squadron with Merlin helicopters and 33 Squadron and 230 Squadron with Puma helicopters. RAF Benson is also home to the Grob Tutor light aircraft of the Oxford University Air Squadron. Also a flying club exists at RAF Benson which consists of service and civilian personnel. Massive investment has been made in a modern flight simulator facility for the Chinook (not located at Benson), Merlin and Puma. RAF Benson is now also home to a mobile Catering Support Unit and the Chiltern Air Support Unit (Police) bases one of its Eurocopter EC 135 helicopters at Benson. A yellow MBB Bo 105 belonging to the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust (headquartered at Grove Park), Maidenhead, moved from White Waltham to Benson in January 2007.

The future of RAF Benson was in doubt for some time, while Project Belvedere was looking into closing at least one of Joint Helicopter Command's airfields. These included Benson, Odiham, Aldergrove, Yeovilton, Middle Wallop, Wattisham and Dishforth; with the Support Helicopters based at RAF Benson being considered for a move to RAF Lyneham. Belvedere has been abandoned on cost grounds, and Benson's future is now believed to be safe.

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