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Heston

Military site : airfield

Opened in 1929 as a civil, private Air Park, Heston was the first airfield in Britain to have an
all-concrete apron and all-concrete main hangar, albeit without concrete runways. It quickly flourished as a base for flying clubs, commercial airlines and aircraft manufacturers. It was expanded throughout the 1930s, including a new main hangar in 1935 which was destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940. As Heston Airport, it was home to the first British Airways formed in 1936, which moved to Gatwick for a few months during 1936-37 but returned to Heston during 1937-39.

Purchased by the British Government for further development as a commercial airport in 1938, the site was requisitioned by the RAF in 1939, after the outbreak of the Second World War, as a satellite to RAF Northolt. Used by the RAF as a multi-role station during 1939-44, particularly as a fighter base, it was also occupied from May 1943 by the 27th Air Transport Group of 8th Air Force Service Command, which operated a variety of American and British aircraft types for cargo and personnel transport purposes. Other transient USAAF units included the 86th Air Transport Squadron, the 112th Liaison Squadron, the 325th Ferrying Squadron and the 2008th AAF Headquarters Squadron. All RAF and USAAF units left in October 1944 so that the site could be prepared as the new home for Fairey Aviation, with three T2 hangars erected on the site of the bombed hangar.

Operated by the Ministry of Aircraft Production from January 1945, it was announced in March 1946 that the airfield would not return to operation as a civil airport for London, nearby Heathrow having been chosen instead, but would close after the departure of Fairey in 1947. Part of the airfield quickly returned to agriculture and the M4 motorway was built across the site in the 1960s. Apart from the Airlinks golf course and Heston Services motorway service areas, most of the airport site has since been covered with housing and industrial estates.

Detailed history

John Cronk's memory of Heston: "In 1944 I was home on leave when Heston Aerodrome in Middlesex was used as an emergency landing site. I saw a shot up Airacobra crash land there and the pilot was killed. The name of the 'plane was "Ticket Home". It was 8th Army Air Corps fighter."

John had joined Royal Air Force Voluntee Reserve in 1943.

English Heritage's record description

The site of a pre-war civil airfield and World War Two military airfield, now mostly built over. The airfield was established in 1929. The then civilian airfield became famous when Neville Chamberlain used it to go to visit Adolf Hitler at the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938. It was here that the "peace in our time speech" was made. Ironically the airfield was used the next year as the base for covert photo reconnaissance of Axis bases by Sidney Cotton, an Australian working for the British Secret Service. On the eve of World War Two the civil airfield was expanded, but it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry in September 1939. The wartime airfield remained grass, and was provided with type T2 and Blister aircraft hangars. Sidney Cotton became a Wing Commander and formed "Number 2 Camouflage Unit", which was actually a photo reconnaissance unit using modified aircraft with a longer flying range. Later in 1940 another reconnaissance unit, 212 Squadron, formed at Heston. This function was made unsafe by German attacks during the Battle of Britain and the "Blitz" of 1940-1941, and the reconnaissance units moved to Benson. They were replaced by Operational Training Units and Polish squadrons. In 1943-1944 a number of American transport and communications units used the base in preparation for the Allied Invasion of occupied Europe (D-Day). Once the Allies had advanced into France activity at the base decreased. From 1945-1947 it was used by 701 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm. Some intermittent civil use of hangars continued until 1965 when the M4 motorway was built across the airfield. Part of the site returned to agriculture, other area were used for housing and industry. The control tower and adjoining buildings (probably a terminal building and clubhouse) were demolished in 1978. Some of the hangars reportedly remained in use for storage, an administrative building was in use as an office, and stretches of perimeter track were visible in 2000-2002.

Service

Units

People

  • Leslie Butler

    Military | Private | Medical Department | 27th Air Transport Group
    KIA. Killed by a 'Buzz Bomb' attack at Heston Field.

  • Gaston Riggs

    Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot | 339th Fighter Group
    Gaston Riggs was killed in a training accident in a P-51 Mustang. He had completed 28 missions flying B-17s with the 94th Bomb Group, before transferring to the 339th Fighter Group to fly P-51s. ...

Aircraft

  • DE826

    Tiger Moth
    de Havilland Tiger Moth DE826, assigned to HQ Sqn, 67 Obs Grp, 8AF USAAF.

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
03 September 2019 12:44:20 Emily Changes to english heritage description
Sources

Historic England National Monument Record TQ 17 NW 50

Date Contributor Update
02 October 2014 11:01:20 Lucy May Changes to history
Sources

Additional details from John Cronk.

Date Contributor Update
01 October 2014 13:08:57 Lucy May Changes to usaaf from date, usaaf to date, description and history
Sources

John Cronk's memory of Heston was submitted by email to the AAM team.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:02:16 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Barry Anderson, Army Air Forces Stations (Alabama, 1985) / Bruce Barrymore Halpenny, Action Stations 8: Military Airfields of reater London (Wellingborough, 1984)

Roger Freeman, Mighty Eighth War Manual (London, 2001)

http://www.angelfire.com/co4/27thatg/conhistory.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heston_Aerodrome

http://www.abct.org.uk/airfields/heston

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