“RAF Bicester is the best preserved of the bomber bases constructed as the principal arm of Sir Hugh Trenchard’s expansion of the RAF from 1923, which was based on the philosophy of offensive deterrence. It retains, better than any other military airbase in Britain, the layout and fabric relating to both pre-1930s military aviation and the development of Britain’s strategic bomber force in the period up to 1939.”
So say English Heritage, but the flying history of Bicester predates its development as a bomber base: a Bristol Boxkite flew from the town as early as 1911. The first military occupiers of the airfield were the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, which became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918 when RAF Bicester, as it now was, became a Training Depot. In the three years from 1925, the airfield was transformed into a state-of-the-art Bomber Station.
In 1936 it expanded as the country prepared for war with Germany. As Britain went to war, RAF Bicester was home to such legendary flying machines as the Hawker Hart, Bristol Blenheim and the first flight of the Handley Page Halifax four-engined bomber, the Royal Air Force’s first heavy bomber to enter production.
By the time the Allies were ready to liberate Europe, training was well under way at RAF Bicester for glider pilots and their tug aircrews. Soldiers of the Glider Pilot Regiment trained at Bicester before setting off for D-Day, Arnhem and, eventually, the Rhine Crossing. As the battle moved towards Berlin, RAF Bicester was transforming to become a busy maintenance unit dealing with both aeroplanes and motor transport.
Now RAF Bicester is transforming again. Its War Department specification redbrick buildings are being restored and updated as it becomes home to the UK’s first centre for historic motoring and aviation. Just in time to celebrate the centenary of powered military flight at Bicester’s airfield in 2017.