Report - - RAF Upper Heyford - The Recollections - 2009-2020 | Military Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - RAF Upper Heyford - The Recollections - 2009-2020


grumpy sod
Regular User
I have a long history with RAF Upper Heyford, which started out long before I even knew what 'urbex' was. I have very cloudy vague memories of going on a school outing there around 2002, which wasn't really a school trip as such in the classic sense it was more some sort of police/crime awareness day with various activities and talks and whatnot. I can't remember a whole lot about it other than fleeting memories in the back of my mind, none of which I'd feel I could describe accurately other than we were in a brick building somewhere on the Airfield side of the base.

Fast forward a handful of years and I'm now interested in exploring things and taking my first tentative steps out into the world in 2009. By the time my interest in exploring came about I had totally forgotten about RAF Upper Heyford, but it was suddenly catapulted back into my consciousness with my new-found hobby and was, I guess, my first truly 'local' explore. My first visit to Upper Heyford was in the wintry depths of late 2009, and so began a love affair with an enormous exploring playground that still continues to this day nearly eleven years later. I'm kind of getting ahead of myself here though, so lets take a step back and revisit what RAF Upper Heyford was and why it was so important.

RAF Upper Heyford was a former Royal Air Force station located five miles north of Bicester. During the Second World War it was home to Bomber Command, and during the Cold War from the 1960s until the base was vacated in 1993/1994 it was leased to the US Air Force as a home for the USAF Strategic Air Command, the US Air Force in Europe tactical reconnaissance aircraft, and F-111 strike aircraft. Groundwork of the site began in June 1918 and it was opened that same year by the RAF, and in November of that year the Canadian Air Force was formed on site, by the renumbering of two RAF squadrons and the posting in of Canadian pilots and observers along with ground crew trained at RAF Halton. This first iteration of the base didn't last very long however, and by 1920 it was returned to the landowners for agricultural use. However a few years later there were concerns about the French occupation of the Rhineland and the land was bought back, with Upper Heyford chosen to be a site to house a new strategic bomber force capable of attacking French targets. The airfield land was purchased in 1924 and the domestic/communal side in 1925, and the design of the base formed the blueprint for pretty much every RAF base that followed. During the 1930s the role of Upper Heyford changed as the bomber force was no longer capable of reaching targets in Germany following their rearmament. Instead it found use as a training base for newly-formed squadrons and as a place squadrons could be re-equipped with new aircraft. After the outbreak of the Second World War the two resident squadrons of Bristol Blenheim aircraft were deployed to France and tragically none of them returned, and following this the base was used mainly for training bomber crews in flying, navigating and bombing targets at night. Following the end of the war, the airfield continued to be used as a training facility by many different units of the RAF up until around 1950. At the outbreak of the war, the airfield was home to two units of RAF Bomber Command - No. 18 & No.57 Bombing Squadron, which formed the No.70 Bomber Wing of the No.2 Bombing Group.

Come the dawn of the 1950s and the USAF Strategic Air Command decided to choose four airfields around Oxfordshire to house a strong force of American bomber aircraft, in response to the growing threat from Russia and the Soviet Union. Along with Upper Heyford, the other sites chosen were RAF Brize Norton, RAF Fairford and RAF Greenham Common (now in Berkshire). On June 26th 1950 men from the 801st Engineer Aviation Battalion began work on extending the 6,000ft runway to 8,300ft, as well as constructing new hardstanding for the much heavier American bombers which included both B-36s and B-50 Superfortresses and a new secure weapons storage facility was also built. The first American unit - 7509th Air Base Squadron - arrived at the base on July 7th 1950. Composed of one Office and 26 airmen, it acted as a host organisation to support the arriving servicemen from USAF bases as well as looked after the Temporary Duty Aircraft on the base during the handover period. RAF Upper Heyford was officially handed over to the Americans on May 15th 1951, with a special parade to mark the occasion held on June 1st. The first SAC aircraft to be based at Upper Heyford were 15 B-50 Superfortresses of the 328th Bombardment Squadron which arrived in December 1951, and by September 1952 the base could hold a full contingent of 45 aircraft. After the Soviet Union had conducted covert nuclear tests behind the so-called 'iron curtain' in the summer of 1962, a detachment of top-secret U-2 Strategic Reconnaissance aircraft flew from Upper Heyford in order to carry out air sampling at very high altitudes above where the tests were conducted to determine the characteristics of the weapons used by the Soviets. In 1964 the unit was redesignated the 3918th Strategic Wing, and when that unit was discontinued in 1965 the base was transferred to the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) and assigned to the Third Air Force as well as the newly organised 7514th Combat Support Group.

In 1966 after France announced it was withdrawing from NATO's integrated military structure, the USAF needed a new home for it's 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing as France had ordered removal of all American military assets from it's country. This arrangement with the TRW didn't last long however and by 1970 they were disbanded and their aircraft moved to bases in both Germany and the USA, with the squadrons relocated to RAF Wethersfield. In somewhat of an exchange the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing relocated from RAF Wethersfield to Upper Heyford in that same year, and shortly after their arrival they began converting to a new aircraft, the F-111 'Aardvark', and by November 1971 they were declared 'operationally ready'. During 1983 the base gained a fourth flying squadron, known as the 42nd Electronic Combat Wing, however responsibility of the 20th TFW over the 42nd ECW was short-lived, with control passing to the 66th Electronic Combat Wing in Germany soon after. In 1986 66th ECW detached the 42nd ECS to the 20th TFW to take part in Operation El Dorado Canyon, the raid on Libya. In 1991 Operation Desert Storm begun, and 20th TFW launched attacks from both Turkey and Saudi Arabia against power plants, refineries, nuclear/biological research sites and electronic facilities in Iraq using the F-111s. When Desert Storm ended, the wing had deployed 458 personnel, flown 1,798 combat sorties without a loss, and dropped 4,714 tons of ordnance. It was to be the last major operation conducted from Upper Heyford.

After the end of the Cold War, it was decided that a USAF presence was no longer necessary in the UK and as such the base was gradually phased down. The last planes to depart, three F-111s, left the base on December 7th 1993. On December 15th 1993 the base flight line closed and on January 1st 20th TFW was transferred without personnel or equipment to Shaw AFB in South Carolina. The base stayed under the command of 620th US Air Base Wing until September 20th 1994, when the USAF returned it to ownership of the MOD.

And thus, thats where the history ends and where I come in. Post-closure, the airfield side was, and still is, utilised by various businesses and companies and suchlike. The hangars are mostly in use for storage whilst the runways are filled with many thousands of new cars. The communal side, however, was left to it's own devices - the vast, once thriving, American style town in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside filled with countless buildings boarded up and derelict, a magnet for people like me. The communal side of the base was set out like an American suburb, with American-style street furniture, fire hydrants, a baseball diamond and bleachers, as well as a distinctly American-looking supermarket. In addition to this there was also a gym/bowling alley (one of the very few buildings that's still open to this day), casino, restaurants, cafes, a laundrette, hospital, a bank, post office, school, barrack blocks...you name it, it was basically an entire abandoned town. For a lot of it you needed to be pretty lucky with your timing as the security did a very good job patching up holes in various areas, but certain parts of it you knew you'd get into every time. The school, which also encompassed a police training centre, had been completely abandoned at the western edge of the site far from everything else and so was very easy to do, likewise with the scattered barrack blocks left in a secluded area of the main communal area. It didn't really help that not only did the base have on-site security but there was also an actual, real, proper police station near the main entrance to the airfield, directly opposite the communal areas.

I have many, many memories from here, too many to type out really. It's where I met @True_British_Metal for the first time, it's where I first met a lovely girl who would later become a girlfriend of mine, it's where I had my first experience with the police exploring, it's where I nearly died (more on that later), the list goes on. I've been here countless times now, with so many people, and even though there is only a small fraction left, I love it.

My first ever visit to anything at Upper Heyford was the hospital, with TBM, in October 2009. The hospital was built in 1980, the last major structure to be built at the base, and it served both the military personnel and population of the surrounding villages. After the main bulk of the base closed in 1994 it hung on until it closed for good in 2001, to much local uproar, as it was a perfectly good serviceable hospital but I guess ultimately it's size didn't justify the small population of the nearby villages and the hospital in Bicester as well as the much, much larger hospitals in Oxford. I'm not actually going to post any of my photos from my first trip as the hospital was incredibly difficult to shoot, being mostly in pitch black, and I had no experience using a camera at all so all of my photos are cats arse. After my visit it was promptly sealed, and it remained sealed until four years later (which I will come to in the photos shortly).

I did, however, take a rather pretty photo of one of the water towers.

And an exterior for good measure.

A couple of months later I found myself there in January 2010, and it was what I would call my first actual proper explore of the base as such. We explored the school and the barrack blocks, however at this time all the other interesting looking things were sealed. It was that sort of gloomy, low light, slightly snowy January day that lends itself well to exploring what was basically a ghost town. These first trips were all documented on my ancient Fujifilm Finepix point-n-shoot.

The room pictured below is probably my favourite room of the whole school complex, I don't know why but it's just got a lovely feel to it. I've inadvertantly shot a photo of it in some form on every excursion into the school!

Building 886, or as it's otherwise known colloquially 'the sand room' - the school gymnasium was converted into an indoor beach volleyball court at some point in it's history and it's probably the most unique sight on any military base I've explored.

The barrack blocks were home to countless dozens of murals painted by the airmen, many by someone calling himself 'Jimi La Rock'

The bank viewed from one of the barrack blocks, one of the few buildings I never found open.

In March of 2010 I returned with @Landie_Man and @True_British_Metal , and had the somewhat unfortunate encounter with the police at the end. I think I've still got my old stop and search form somewhere!

We visited all the usual spots I'd done before, but also lucked on the NCO building being open which contained the casino, restaurants, a sandwich bar, and other stuff. I'm so sad that most of my photos from here are awful, owing to the limits of my technology at the time.

In January 2011 I organised a tour of the Airfield side with TBM and a couple of others. It's well worth doing even to this day as there is a lot to see on the airfield side that you'd stand no chance of seeing without permission. We struck up quite a good relationship with Don, the tour guide, prior to the redevelopment and he said to us that basically anything on the airfield side we wanted to see he'd get us in there provided he could locate a key.

The Avionics building, sadly not accessible on this trip but I can't actually remember why. Perhaps a lack of keys.

The non-descript jet engine testing building.



grumpy sod
Regular User
This however is probably the jewel in the crown of the Airfield side. The hardened command centre bunker, in an amazing state of preservation. I believe there are still plans to open this as a museum as and when it's possible, to be honest that's what it needs to be.

Later in 2011 I made a few more visits to the base, it really did seem like the summer of Upper Heyford if I'm honest. The first target was to try and get back into the hospital, and where I nearly had a calamity happen to me in the process. Behind the hospital was a large joint boiler house/incinerator which would have dealt with the hospital waste and we figured there must be some sort of tunnel connecting the two together. TBM had found a ballache of a way into the boiler house so I was more than game to give it a try of course. Wellies donned, as we knew the basement of the hospital was at least partially flooded, we set off into the unknown. The only way into the building was somewhat convoluted and pretty sketchy, and basically involved spiderman climbing up the side of a blocked off ladder covered in anti-climb paint. It would have been OK were it not for the way they'd blocked the ladder off at the cage - by using a circular street sign with part of the pole sticking out, sharpened into a point at the end and also covered in anti-climb paint. Of course muggins here lost his grip on the slippery metal, and the shift in momentum swung my body around and my thigh went straight into the sharpened end of the metal pole around 10ft off the ground. Cue a lot of swearing, but by luck and some thick jeans thankfully nothing more than a massive bruise was the result. We made it in though, and the ultimate kick in the teeth was finding the tunnel to the hospital bricked up halfway down. Still, we were in a building neither of us had ever seen before, and I don't recall ever seeing photos of it since.

After that mixed result we went on another exploratory excursion to the school area, and found some parts I hadn't seen before. It turned out that a couple of the buildings here were used for police officer training and came complete with cells, weird two-way mirrored windows and other stuff.

A couple of weeks later in August 2011 I found myself back in the school with a newbie. It was around this time that the beach volleyball court building was heavily targeted by shitty taggers, however everything else had pretty much been left alone. This was also my first ever outing with a (borrowed) DSLR.

This was to be my last visit to the school for five years.

In October 2011 I got incredibly lucky, in that me and an old friend from another forum organised/wangled a permission visit to the Commissioned Officers Club, a building on the main road through Upper Heyford that nobody ever, ever got into. It was a rare survivor of it's type as COC's were phased out across the country and the buildings reused/demolished but the one at Upper Heyford hung on right up until the base closed in 1994. Following the closure the ground floors were found to be riddled with dry rot and were completely removed save for in the main ballroom and the smaller private ballroom. As of now the building is a central part of the redevelopment, namely Heyford Park Free School.

We also paid a visit to the Skyking Theater, which I know had been done 'properly' many times previous but it's always good to have a door opened for you. I had only recently got my DSLR here and so my photos absolutely sucked balls but it's the only time I ever got into the Skyking and it wasn't for want of trying!



grumpy sod
Regular User
All went quiet then for a couple of years, as I thought I was done with UH. However news of it's impending redevelopment surfaced during spring of 2013 which spurred me and a couple of friends into action as we all wanted to get into the hospital, by any means, before it was demolished. Over the years we'd mooted various plans and schemes to get into it but nothing had panned out. The entire ground floor was bricked closed other than the front entrance doors, which had about a four foot gap behind them and then a large iron grate with one small access hatch in it. The access hatch had been left totally secure for years, or so we thought, however with a bit of 'hands on' ingenuity we were able to wriggle and squeeze our way inside. Finally, after three and a half years, I was stood inside the hospital again and able to reshoot it - and it's a good thing I did because a month later the next photo I saw of it showed a large digger parked right inside the front entrance.

The great thing was, the building was still in pretty much exactly the same waterlogged and mouldy state that it was when I first stepped foot inside. It was obvious nobody had gotten in during the intervening years, which was somewhat of a relief because if we'd missed something obvious all along I'd have kicked myself.

And then things really did go quiet. I saw building after building get demolished piece by piece and the many parts of the base I'd had such great memories in fall by the wayside. The hospital was first to go, then I saw the laundrette, bank and supermarket be flattened, three buildings I'm gutted I never managed to get into. The Skyking went, as did many of the scattered derelict parts on the Airfield side, and the school started to disappear. New houses sprung up on what used to be a vast derelict expanse of buildings and the COC was converted into the school for the new development.

Just prior to Christmas in 2016, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. I saw that around half of the school was inexplicably left standing. It looked as if the contractors were using the grounds to store building supplies and they hadn't actually demolished the whole thing. A quick 'farewell' trip was organised and at the end of a day exploring other things, under the weak fading sun of a December afternoon, I ventured back inside UH for the first time in over three years. What amazed me so much was that it didn't seem to have changed much, at all. There was some additional graffiti here and there but the feel of the place and the decay seemed exactly the same.

By far the most amazing find though, for me, was this chalkboard addition I had made way back in 2011, still as fresh as the day it was added.

And that's where I really did think the saga would end. But no, this part of the school is still there as of 2020. It really shouldn't be, but it is. After a long day exploring things around Oxfordshire myself and @Grom paid a visit to what was left earlier this year, and it's gone downhill somewhat more - one of the buildings has had a fire, and it looks as though someones driven a digger into the supporting pillars of another one - but it's still much the same. I hope this part lasts forever, as it's the final piece of what was a formative location in my exploring years, and one I'm so very lucky to have had only a few miles away from where I live.

I hope you enjoyed this, it took me enough time to type out!

Calamity Jane

i see beauty in the unloved, places & things
Regular User
Wow what a cracker of a place. loads of history, and a lot of personal connections too. A village within a village, love it. Very well documented, and shot. Absolute beauty of an explore there. :cool: :cool: :thumb


grumpy sod
Regular User
Cheers all, it was quite nice to go through all of my stuff from here there are so many more photos I could have included from the early explores too but the quality just wasn't there sadly. I do wish sometimes secca hadn't kept doing such a good job sealing stuff but then I look at other bases that closed around the same time and how they suffered, and am quite thankful for it even if it was frustrating!

Great report but also big ooooooooh to that bunker!
The bunker alone is reason enough to organise a tour of the Airfield with Heyford Park, I really want to do another one when I can as my photos really weren't that great back then.

Similar threads